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Laramie Movie Scope: SLC Punk

Pretty good for a independent punk film

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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September 4, 2002 -- "SLC Punk" is an energetic, irreverent, imaginative, funny, poignant look at some anarchistic punks on the margins of society in Salt Lake City, Utah in the mid-1980s. Written and directed by James Merendino, it is about teen rebellion and getting a grip on reality. The dialogue is sharp and biting.

Matthew Lillard of "She's All That") stars as Steve (referred to as "Stevo" in the film), who has just graduated from college and is going nowhere. Think of him as a punk dropout version of Dustin Hoffman's character in "The Graduate." He lives in a run down loft with his longtime friend Bob (played by Michael A. Goorjian of "Hard Rain"). Bob smokes and drinks, but hates needles and is suspicious of chemicals so he avoids drugs. His dread of needles earns him the nickname of "Heroin Bob." One flashback scene shows why Bob thinks drugs are a bad idea. It has to do with a guy stoned on LSD who is chasing his mother with a large knife because he thinks she is Satan. Bob and Stevo hang out with an odd assortment of friends, including Trish (Annabeth Gish of "Double Jeopardy"), Sandy (Jennifer Lien of "American History X") and a rich German named Mark (Til Schweiger). Mark is not a punk, but he always has plenty of drugs.

In one violent punk rock scene, one of Stevo's friends beats up a band bodyguard. Afterward, one of the punks asks a member of the band how he liked the gig and the English punk singer says he will never come back to Salt Lake City again because "It's too bleedin' violent!" The Salt Lake City punk replies, "Thank you man!" Stevo's theory is that Salt Lake City punks are more rebellious than others because of where they live. He says, "In a country of lost souls, rebellion comes hard. But in a religiously oppressive city which half its population isn't even of that religion, it comes like fire!"

There is a whole sequence devoted to the difficulty of getting liquor in Salt Lake City (there was once an advertisement for the ski area at Steamboat Springs, Colorado that half-jokingly said Steamboat Springs has more bars than all of Utah). At a party, somebody asks, "Where'd you get the beer?" The answer, "Wyoming, of course." Stevo and some friends drive to Evanston, Wyoming to get liquor in one scene. Evanston is on the eastern border of Utah. In Utah, they would have had to deal with cops at the state liquor stores and the beer has only about half the alcohol content of beer sold in Wyoming.

There is a good deal of violence in the film. We see punkers beating rednecks with clubs, we see them beating skinheads with clubs, we see rednecks attacking punks with clubs and there are various fist fights. The frame freezes in the middle of one fight for a brief documentary film essay on fighting called, "The fight, what does it mean, and where does it come from?" With torturous logic, the essay concludes that fighting is a way to impose one's own sense of order upon others and is therefore at odds with Stevo's anarchist spirit. There are many such asides and soliloquies in the film, and a lot of off-screen narration. On the film's commentary track, director James Merendino says the narration is done to facilitate audience identification with the main character.

In one impressive scene, Stevo is talking to three other friends at the table, when suddenly his image becomes detatched from the others and it becomes superimposed over them. As the camera pushes in on two of the people at the table, Stevo's image seems to shrink into the background. On the commentary track, Merendino refuses to divulge how he accomplished this remarkable photographic trick. Another trick shot has Stevo again detached from his surroundings as he lies in bed. His image is seen floating over the city. In another scene, Salt Lake City appears to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, a real-time illustration of one character's nihilistic speech. For a low-budget production (the film cost about $800,000), this is a very visually imaginative film. It rates a B.

The DVD commentary audio track features Merendino, along with Matthew Lollard and Michael A. Georgian. They are not very informative, but they do make a lot of funny comments as they make fun of each other. Other DVD features include an isolated music track, an SLC Punk comic book and theatrical trailers for "SLC Punk" and "Go." The single-layer DVD is in anamorphic wide screen format with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Sound tracks include English Dolby (tm) digital 5.1, English Dolby digital 2.0 surround. Subtitles options include English, Spanish and French, along with English closed-captioning.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2002 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)