Bloodied But Unbowed might be the title of Susanne Tabata's documentary chronicling the Vancouver punk scene in the late 1970s and early '80s, but it could just as easily sum up the local filmmaker's trials and tribulations putting together the insightful and highly entertaining film, which was released on DVD earlier this month.
With mountains of scruffy interviewees, beer-strewn archival footage, sweaty images and oddball personalities to sort through, Tabata and her team of editors were still editing the extensive and in-depth film a day-and-ahalf before its premiere screening to a sold-out crowd as part of the 2010 DOXA documentary film festival. If that weren't enough, prior to that, Tabata and her cinematographer found themselves in the loving arms of U.S. border guards, who detained the pair for almost four hours over employment concerns, quashing their plans to drive to Seattle for a pre-arranged interview with former Dead Kennedys' frontman and outspoken political activist Jello Biafra. It was a particularly ironic, though no less harrowing development, considering Biafra once played a humourless U.S. border guard in the Bruce McDonald film Highway 61.
"It was an unpleasant experience, it was quite an ordeal," says Tabata, who was finally able to interview Biafra in October 2010 when he performed in Vancouver. The Biafra footage as well as an interview with San Francisco punk zine editor and all-around eccentric Ginger Coyote made it into the reedited version of the film for its DVD release.
A limited edition three-disc DVD also includes outtakes, extended interviews, archival musical performances and several short films from that time period, including a documentary about Vancouver band Tunnel Canary and the local no wave scene.
"When you look at punk scenes across Canada of that era, Vancouver by far was the most well archived," says Tabata who points to the contributions of trailblazing local cable shows such as Night Dreams, Soundproof and The Gina Show in documenting the underground music scene.
"There was also a video production unit in Vancouver-three guys who used to work at CKVU, what is now CityTV-who did the music videos for all those bands like the Payolas, D.O.A., Subhumans, Dishrags, Modernettes, Art Bergman, Pointed Sticks. There were also five or six photographers working and a number of artists who shot their own films on super-8. It was the combination of the music, the gay scene and the art scene under one umbrella that would lend itself to a more eclectic production of music, an expression of art and people collecting material."
With so much of this material at her disposal, Tabata acknowledges it would be easy to cut and re-cut the film, and make an entirely different one in the process. "There are a couple areas I would change, still, but you have to draw the line. And I'm running out of favours to pull. You can only go so far buying people a case of beer, a bottle of scotch, a 26-er of Jameson."
Since its Vancouver premiere in 2010, Bloodied But Unbowed has screened at Pop Montreal and Toronto's North By Northeast; a condensed version of the film has aired on The Knowledge Network; and Super Channel regularly airs the feature length version. There are also plans to take the documentary to Japan, where audiences there have shown a keen appreciation for early Vancouver punk bands, particularly the Pointed Sticks who played a reunion tour in that country in 2006.
"Outside of the microcosm of people who experienced Vancouver music in the late '70s," says Tabata, "there are generations of fans, even in Vancouver, who are seeing this as an eye opener and that discovery is continuous, and I think we're just starting to get it out there."
Bloodied But Unbowed DVDs are available at Red Cat Records, Neptune, Zulu, Audiophile, Bone Rattle, Skull Skates and online at thepunkmovie.com.