What happens when the pioneers of a movement get left out of history? The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead, screening August 24 at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, explores that very question. The documentary takes an in-depth look at the Damned, one of the punk era’s most influential yet unheralded bands, whose musical contributions were often overlooked in favor of those of such contemporaries as the Sex Pistols and the Clash. The movie begins its chronicle of the Damned in the late ’70s and catches up with the present-day version of the band, which is still alive, kicking and touring. Here are five more documentaries that take a look at under-appreciated acts and music scenes that had big impacts — regardless of how well they were remembered.
You're Gonna Miss Me (2006): The story of Roky Erickson
The release of You're Gonna Miss Me seemed to bring Roky Erickson the attention and career-extending life he had long deserved. The film details the lost decades between the psychedelic-rock pioneer's initial splash and his present-day status. First appearing on the pop scene as lead singer of 13th Floor Elevators in 1966, Erickson eventually fell out of the spotlight, rolling into decades of untreated mental illness and legal issues. A man whom music critic Kurt Loder once called "the great lost vocalist of rock ’n roll," Erickson is now experiencing notoriety among a new generation of garage-rockers who might not exist without his trail-blazing accomplishments.
The Punk Singer (2013): The story of Kathleen Hanna and the Riot Grrrl movement Though well known in feminist circles, Kathleen Hanna finally got her mainstream due with the release of The Punk Singer. The film traces Hanna's work as a musician, political and social activist, writer, zine-maker and icon for a new wave of feminism that was born in the '90s and continues to thrive today. The documentary exposes the often violent treatment of women in dominating punk scenes and the coexistence of the Riot Grrrl movement during a time most often noted in music history as the grunge era.
Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton (2014): The story of record label Stones Throw Stones Throw is a record label adored by legions of hip-hop heads, funk masters and DJs, yet it has remained on the outskirts of the mainstream world for most of its existence. Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton shines a light on the label's impact on performers like Kanye West and Snoop Dogg; it also shows off a diverse roster of underground musicians while exploring the work ethic of founder and DJ Peanut Butter Wolf. But what the film really gets to is the heart and soul of Stones Throw's inception, detailing Wolf's loss of his partner in musical crime, Charizma, as well as telling the necessary story of the short life and unexpected death of the label's greatest underground superstar, J Dilla.
Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll(2015): The story of Cambodia's lost rock-and-roll heritage Rock and roll as a modern movement is often credited only to the work of English-speaking musicians from the West. Don't Think I've Forgotten challenges that notion, tracing a thriving scene of Cambodian musicians who meshed their Eastern melodies with the defining rock sounds of the '60s and '70s. The film also goes into why the once-spirited and vast community of music-makers and fans seemed to vanish overnight, when the Khmer Rouge drained the hip hub of Phnom Penh of its cultural lifeblood and humanity, forcing those who survived to go into hiding and leave behind their identities as rock-and-roll artists.
Synth Britannia (2009): The story of the synthesizer's impact on post-punk-era British musicians
Although acts like Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys and Gary Numan are some of the most well-known names from the realms of '80s pop, the history of the instrument so integral to their work is not as acclaimed. A documentary made for television by the BBC, Synth Britannia follows the rise of the singular yet mutable synthesizer, an instrument that was the source of a sound that characterized the late '70s and early '80s.
Catch The Damned: Don't You Wish That We Were Dead at 10 p.m. Monday, August 24, at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema; tickets are $5. The evening will feature opening commentary from Jason Heller and a special interview via Skype with Wes Orshoski, director of the film. Heller will also be giving away pairs of tickets to see the Damned at Riot Fest or at a headlining show at the Marquis Theater. For more information and to purchase tickets to Monday's event, visit the Alamo's website.
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Bree Davies is a multimedia journalist, artist advocate and community organizer born and raised in Denver. Rooted in the world of Do-It-Yourself arts and music, Davies co-founded Titwrench experimental music festival, is host of the local music and comedy show Sounds on 29th on CPT12 Colorado Public Television and is creator and host of the civic and social issue-focused podcast, Hello? Denver? Are You Still There? Her work is centered on a passionate advocacy for all ages, accessible, inclusive, non-commercial and autonomous DIY art spaces and music venues in Denver.