This epically detailed documentary makes you rethink what it means to be punk
When one thinks of the Bay Area, more likely than not, a few stereotypes fumble through the mind: flower power, hippies, poets, war protesters, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, the Castro District, and other fundamental aspects associated with the counter culture movement of the 1960s. Most imagine it as a laid back place, one that is steeped in easy-going living, with an existential need to “turn on, tune in, drop out.”
But just as the youth of the 1960s revolted against the ideals of Eisenhower’s America so too did the following generation, who rejected the hippie culture of their parents. While still adopting some of their ideals of acceptance, progressiveness and reactionary ideas, the punks of the ’70s and ’80s were a new kind of counter culture. They did not rely on peaceful idealization, balmy existence or serene music. Instead, they were loud, angry and brazen in their pursuit of reacting against the world that surrounded them. And there was no better way to showcase that disposition than through music.
The punk scene that emerged out of San Francisco and its surrounding towns and cities was one that was wild, dirty, and invigorating. Corbett Redford’s nearly three-hour Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk explores every minute component of the once esoteric scene. From the metal punks that trash their guitars and growl lines about death and destruction to the skateboarders who coalesced with the punk scene, Redford and co-writer Anthony Marchitiello leave no stone unturned in this odyssey through the history of the Bay Area punk scene.
Whether it was the racist, violent, and corrupt punks that led to the creation of the more inclusive punk scene at the collective, volunteer-based 924 Gillman Club or the gang of women punks who protected one another and others, there is a doozy of characters and factions to familiarize yourself with. It can be there overwhelming at times, as Redford introduces these individuals and bands in the same sort of thumping pace that punk music finds itself at home in. It almost seems that had editor Greg Schneider not stepped in, Redford could have kept going for another hour or two.
With a cast list that runs longer than the extras cast in Ben-Hur, Turn It Around is extensive in its exploration of the once thriving punk scene in California’s Bay Area. The arid surroundings coupled with the McMansion aura led kids like Billie Joe Armstrong and Tim Armstrong to begin exploring the raw, unwavering emotions of punk music. To their credit, they would go on to nationwide fame with Green Day and Rancid, respectively, bringing punk rock out of the shadows and into the American mainstream. While punk purists only saw them as sellouts, many others saw them as saviors, bringing a fledgling community into the national spotlight.
At the end of the day, Turn It Around is an interesting look into the west coast’s punk rock scene, one that becomes increasingly more fascinating it progresses. Accented with Iggy Pop’s sporadic narration, Corbett Redford’s directorial debut is a fine documentary that works tirelessly to provide as full a picture as possible of a rather esoteric music scene that few would have explored. But the film’s intense pace, long duration, and need for background information holds it back from being the best version of itself. But for punk fans everywhere, that is exactly what makes Turn It Around a wonderfully definitive piece about the Bay Area punk scene.
Turn it Around: The Story of East Bay Punk had its world premiere at SF DocFest on May 31 and was released in theaters beginning July 28.