Sonic Youth. Photo courtesy of Hot Docs.
For those hoarding worn-in (and valuable) VHS copies in their old basement bedrooms, 1991: The Year Punk Broke doesn’t require any introduction. The content (and context) speaks for itself: a tour documentary centering on Sonic Youth’s 1991 trek across Europe, the film includes footage of a pre-Nevermind Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., Babes in Toyland, and the Ramones, along with hangers-on, roadies, and girlfriends (including some borderline psycho called Courtney). Capturing a fleeting moment of brilliant creativity in America’s exploding alternative underground, 1991 is a snapshot of some of the most vital rock music produced in the last two decades, letting latecomers into a world that would get uncomfortably barfed out into the mainstream only a few years later.
Director David Markey, himself a veteran of the late ’80s California hardcore scene, used his experience directing music videos for bands like Black Flag and fIREHOSE to translate the energy of a profoundly rad era of original, exciting punk music into what hardcore statesman Damian Abraham (of Polaris Prize–winners Fucked Up) has called “the most important movie I ever saw.” And that’s precisely why Damian will be presenting tonight’s retrospective midnight screening for Hot Docs.
Torontoist caught up with Abraham to ask a few quick questions about his history with the film.
Torontoist: When did you first see 1991: TYPB and what was your initial reaction?
Damian Abraham: I first saw it the summer I was 13. I bought it on the recommendation of a friend and I was hooked almost immediately. Even though I knew of and had heard of most of the bands before, it wasn’t until that movie that I started to get into them. Even Nirvana, who everyone was enthralled with at the time, didn’t hit me until I saw this film.
How did you get involved with Hot Docs and the presentation of the film?
A friend of my wife’s, Jenn Hobbs, who works with Hot Docs, read an interview where I talked about how important that film was to me and sent me an email about doing the intro.
What’s your favourite moment?
The scene when Thurston Moore is giving the speech while leaning outside of his hotel window to a confused old woman and her grandchild on the streets below.
How do you think the film holds up as a document today?
It’s still a ton of fun. All the music holds up, and I also think there’s a new layer of fascination because of how innocent it all seems. None of these bands were anywhere as big as they would become, so it gives a great glimpse of these people before the gold rush.
1991: The Year Punk Broke screens tonight at midnight at Bloor Cinema. It’s only five bucks. You should probably go.