One of the recurring themes in the movie D.O.A.: A Right Of Passage, filmed in 1978 in a semi-aborted attempt to document the Sex Pistols’ American tour, is the frequent accusation that punk rockers are all in it for the money. Longhairs from record companies tut-tut the punk rockers’ bad behavior and declare “This is not a viable form of music in America,” and thus has no reason to exist. One member of the Greater London Council gives “money” as the sole reason why punk rock exists. (The city authorities of LA were more philosophical on the topic.) Even the poster for the film shows a punker girl about to get run over by a Rolls Royce with a safety pin through the wheel. Considering that the film’s whole existence is at the pleasure of High Times editor Tom Forcade, who insisted on making a Sex Pistols movie despite the Pistols’ record label refusing him access to the band and the shows, it’s easy to question just who was really in this thing for the big bucks.
But even if the film lacks focus or even any understanding of its topic, it happens to be pointing the camera at some truly great shit much of the time. Besides the Pistols footage — which is blistering, if amateurish-looking due to the stealthy shooting conditions — there are fierce performances by X-Ray Spex and the Dead Boys that rank among the best moments captured from that era. There’s a long interview segment with Sid and Nancy in which he can’t stay awake long enough to answer a question, and she can’t stop babbling long enough to let that register. Is that funny? I’m not sure, although I remember reading about Richard Hell getting obsessed with the idea that any time you laugh at something, it’s because an emotion has died. He was pretty punk, but he’s not in this movie.
And it’s a shame, because I bet he would have been in it if anybody had asked. Then we could have had footage of the Voidoids instead of the charmless and talentless geeks known as Terry and the Idiots, whose music is terrible, and whose storyline has no function other than to pad out the running time. Considering how many incredible artists were operating at peak excellence in 1978 and would have likely jumped at the chance to be in this film, the fact that half of it is wasted on boring filler crap kind of pisses me off. There would have been nothing easier to make a great movie about, than punk rock in early 1978. D.O.A. misses that mark by a long shot, but its best fifteen minutes are still savory enough to justify owning it. Extras on this edition include long rambling interviews with Punk Magazine editor John Holmstrom and photographer Roberta Bayley, talking about the New York scene and telling stories about the Pistols tour.