As the last significant youth movement to predate the wide availability of cheap video recording equipment, punk rock has been poorly served by the cinema arts, its history largely receding into the mists of time and the memories of aging spiky tops. San Francisco’s scene was better served than most, with Mindaugis Bagdon’s Louder Faster Shorter and Joe Rees’s Target Video preserving important moments of the city’s punk history on 16mm film and magnetic tape, but was definitely the exception that proved the rule.
In sharp contrast, the East Bay scene may as well have been on the moon. As The Avengers’ Penelope Houston explains in Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk — premiering at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 31 at the Mission District’s Alamo Drafthouse as part of the 16th San Francisco Documentary Festival, with a wider release following in June — traveling across the Bay Bridge to Berkeley for a gig felt like going on tour, and going even further afield, say to Rodeo’s Rio Theater, was the equivalent of an exotic trip to a foreign country.
A labor of love for Pinole producer-director Corbett Redford, Turn It Around serves as a corrective to the scene’s intervening decades of cinematic neglect. The film tells the story of how the widely dispersed outcasts, freaks, and nerds of the East Bay came together to create a safe and inclusive punk community in a very special place — Berkeley’s 924 Gilman Street Project.
Catalyzed by the irascible Tim Yohannan, and intended as an offshoot of the hugely successful ‘zine ‘Maximum Rock and Roll‘, the West Berkeley club wouldn’t have happened but for the tireless efforts of highly dedicated volunteers such as Kamala Parks, Jesse Townley and Pat Wright. Today, Gilman remains open after 30 (only slightly interrupted) years of service to the community, its story related in impressive detail by Redford’s outstanding film.
Want to see Green Day playing in someone’s back yard? It’s here. Want to see Operation Ivy practicing in a cramped utility room? That’s here, too, along with a well-deserved tribute to legendary Berkeley promoter Wes Robinson. True to the DIY punk spirit Gilman exemplifies, Turn It Around features an amazing array of contemporaneous footage and photos generously donated to the project, as well as interviews with literally dozens of people who helped make it all possible.
Clocking in at over two and a half hours, Turn it Around nonetheless flies by and leaves you wanting more (I was hoping for footage of 1981’s Eastern Front concerts at Aquatic Park, but no such luck). And it’s not the whole story, by any means — for better or worse, Redford chose to leave out Gilman controversies such as the Jello Biafra incident and the club’s recent boycott.
In spite of (or perhaps because of) its omissions, the film is an inspirational tribute to the ‘people power’ that made Gilman a haven from the violence, homophobia and racism of the ’80s hardcore punk circuit. The club remains one of the city’s crown jewels; a place where actions have definitely spoken – or been screamed – louder than words.