Due to a combination of the nights fair drawing in, some slight (non-Covid) sniffles, and the rain lashing down so hard that a 600-year old man knocked on my door and asked if I had any spare gopher wood, Xmas at mi casa was an sedate, indoor affair. After filling up on so much sugary Netflix Xmas movies that I almost contracted diabetes, I was in dire need of a palette cleanser and I ended up stumbling upon these 4 music documentaries by German filmmaker Wolfgang Büld.
Wolfgang Büld (born on September 4, 1952 in Lüdenscheid, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany) is a writer and director, known for Sea of Lies (2018), Hangin’ Out (1983) and Neonstadt (1982). From 1974 to 1977 he studied at the Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film München and made music documentaries such as Punk in London (1977), Reggae in Babylon (1978) and British Rock (1979). In order to document the punk movement, he repeatedly stayed in London. In 1979 he made the television film Burning Boredom with the amateur actors Ian Moorse, Monika Greser and the band The Adverts. In 1980 he made the documentary Woman in Rock with Siouxsie and the Banshees, Nina Hagen, Mania D, Slits and Liliput, a Swiss all-girl post-punk band.
Punk In London not only features live performances of big name bands from the likes of The Clash, The Jam, The Boomtown Rats, etc but also ‘lesser’ known acts like Wayne County and the Electric Chairs, Subway Sect, and The Killjoys (which features a pre-Dexy’s Midnight Runners members Kevin Rowland and Kevin Archer and pre-Girlschool bassist Gil Weston). It also has interviews with managers Miles Copeland and Andrew Czezowski, and briefly mentions Sniffin’ Glue, Sounds, Rough Trade and the Roxy, Marquee and 100 Club venues. The narration is ok but it could be a little more informative, especially when they interviewed several people without telling the viewer who they were. Still it’s a really good documentary with some great live performances and some pretty interesting interviews.
Punk In England (or British Rock) follows the same style as Punk in London but expands it’s musical scope to include Ska, New Wave and the Mod scene and that makes this documentary more richer than the first one. There’s musical crossover with that documentary but also live performances and interviews with Spizzenergi, The Police, The Pretenders, Selecter, Gary Numan, and Ray Davies from the Kinks (who had a mini-revival in the UK thanks to the punk movement). Like the first documentary, there is excellent footage of a plethora of bands performing live (either on stage or in a rehearsal room) interspersed with short interviews of said bands, and drab, squalid, grimy footage of 70’s London; there is little-to-no narration and precious few captions which, on the one hand, allows the footage and the people to speak for themselves, but on the other side it does make it difficult to know who is who and why their opinion on the subject matters.
This is especially relevant on Reggae In Babylon, which contains a lot of footage of English reggae pioneers (Aswad, Steel Pulse, Jimmy Lindsay) performing on the underground club circuit and has extensive interviews with prominent people involved with reggae music pertaining to lack of mainstream media airplay, the rastifari culture and marijuana, but as my knowledge of this genre is minimal at best, I had no real clue as to who was who. Fortunately, for the music at least, somebody uploaded the soundtrack to Spotify (link at the end of the article) so that helped me discover who was playing. Another issue I had with the documentary was it was only 48 mins long (compared to the 1hr 51 mins of Punk In London and 1hr 25 of Punk In England) and I felt quite cheated that it didn’t go deeper into the rich vein of that genre or show more acts as it did with the punk documentaries.
If the reggae documentary felt like a missed opportunity, then I can confidently state that this documentary is a hugely missed opportunity. Considering how much punk empowered women to find their voice (and how well Büld did his previous punk pieces) this documentary is sorely lacking in content For one, it’s only 35 minutes long(!), for another, other than Siouxsie and the Banshees, Girlschool and The Slits, I had no idea who else was being interviewed. Thirdly, despite opening and closing the documentary Nina Hagen was not interviewed at all, and this whole documentary was filmed in Germany! There’s a great documentary about women in punk/rock/ out there but this is not it. It’s the weakest of the four documentaries, but it’s still a good watch, particularly for the three live Banshees performances.
If you’re looking for something a little different in your music documentaries, interested in seeing some pretty run-down places in London and spotty herberts aplenty and finding out just what it was like in the ‘good old days’ then you’ll probably get a kick out of binge-watching these.
Please note: I’m living in Galicia and I receive Netflix Spain, so I’m not sure if these documentaries are available where you live.