“It’s a conversation with society, and often, it’s an argument,” declares narrator Iggy Pop in a statement providing context for punk rock in the opening of Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk, and it doesn’t take long for the film to construct a convincing argument. Executive produced by the members of Green Day, the documentary is the feature-length debut of director Corbett Redford, who clearly has a passion for the music scene that swept Gilman Street for over three decades, along with the non-profit DIY club that continues to take up residence there. While lengthy, Redford has assembled a comprehensive reflection on a pivotal site in punk rock history that is often overlooked for the sexier scenes of New York and London.
Despite a run time that comes close to edging the three-hour mark, the film’s pace cranks along with the high energy of one of the songs it features. Redford never gets bogged down in the expansive history of the genre, mainly because he rarely steps outside of Gilman Street. Turn It Around is not a punk rock documentary – viewers are expected to come in with at least an elementary knowledge of the genre. Instead, it’s an extensive overview of a single resilient neighborhood that would become a beacon for punks everywhere.
More than the music itself, Turn It Around chronicles the formation of a tight community. East Bay punk rock tapped into the violent sensibilities of a disassociated youth. The movement saw itself as a continuation of the free speech movement, while still being a rejection of the hippie culture their parents’ generation had so spiritedly subscribed to. There was a supernova of creative energy as the rebellious masses made their pilgrimage to the Bay area. The music gave into its incestuous nature, with many musicians stepping in for performances in each other’s bands.
Punk rock is about attitude and personalities as much as it is the music. The Gilman Street crowd weren’t simply constructing a new sound, they had found a new approach to experiencing music. Anyone who was willing to put in the work could form a band, with performances taking place in abandoned warehouses and empty garages. The concerts themselves were unlike anything that had come before, often through the inclusion of literal garbage onstage. Performances evolved into a competition in absurdity between musicians, much to the satisfaction of the fans.
Parts of the documentary are narrated by none other than Iggy Pop. Though he was not born out of the East Bay scene, he certainly paved the way for it to come into being. He has been such a driving force in the world of music, and any of the stories he tells about the entertainment industry immediately sound momentous, with a voice that oozes that punk-rock vibe. The audience can feel the disgust in his voice with the era punk promised to bring an end to.
Through the use of animated re-enactments in the style of the punk zines of the era, timeless intimate photos of blossoming punk pioneers, and testimonials of so many major players, Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk is a collection of anecdotes that come together to paint a complete portrait of an unstoppable movement. The East Bay punk scene drew from an act of emotional expression that transcended the boundaries that we create for one another. Countless punk fans will see this movie as a religious experience, and those unfamiliar with the genre will be compelled to make the trip to their local record store for further education.
Drink Every Time: the executive producers emphasize their own role in music history.