INTERVIEW WITH DAVE MARKEY, THE EYE OF A EPOCA
Cinema to break armchairs
Markey made ironic, strange, and hilarious revelatory documentary films on Nirvana and Sonic Youth. Today he lands in Buenos Aires to exhibit five of his films in VII the Bafici. Previous to his journey, from California, he shares the details on those golden years. And gives his own ironic and strange revelation: "Less than a month ago I discovered that I was adopted".
By Roque Casciero
"This will be the year punk breaks through to the global media mass consciousness", Thurston Moore says to Dave Markey’s camera, while wielding in his hands a feminine magazine Elle with an article on "fashion punk". The year was 1991 and Moore’s band Sonic Youth, had just taken on tour an underground, pre-fame Nirvana. The subtext of that the joke quickly became an unforeseen reality: in the same month the tour finished, Septemeber 1991, Nirvana releases to the unsuspecting world Nevermind. Underground instantly became mainstream and punk rock really did break.
1991 - The Year Broke Punk is one of five films of the Californian film director that will be seen this year at Bafici . "During the brief two week tour, nobody knew that Nevermind would blow up", Markey remembers, who today arrives at Buenos Aires to participate in the Festival. "Fourteen million records later, replacing Michael Jackson from the Billboard charts... There was no way, not even in your wildest dreams that would be possible.” In the film we see Kurt (Cobain) smiling and clearly having the time of his life. In stark contrast to the dour, tortured-artist-figure he later became perceived as. “That tour was a lot of fun, and that comes across in the film, it’s like a snapshot in time. It’s basically a summer vacation home movie on acid." Markey offers.
The story of Markey is one in which cinema and punk rock are fused. A self-taught filmmaker, he began to make films at the age of 11 in the mid-1970's, with the 8-millimeter camera of his father. Six years later he was the drummer of Sin 34, one of the bands of the early hardcore punk scene of Los Angeles. He then published a fanzine called We Got Power (the namesake of his film production company).
The adolescent Dave took his Super-8 film camera to the all-ages hardcore shows and documented and interviewed the musicians and fans alike. This comprises his first commercially released film, The Slog Movie. It’s style is completely amateur, but remains true to it’s raw subjects, the bands of the Los Angeles Hardcore scene. "When I made that film, I was very in deep with the scene and it did not matter to me to explain it anyone who was outside of it. ", the film director explains. “I was a punk making films for punks, and if you didn’t get it, I couldn’t care less.”
"It might be hard to grasp at this point, with ‘punk’ being very much a stylistic template that refuses to recede. I mean, even Green Day are in there 30’s now, but in that early scene of hardcore the kids were real young, ages 13-18. The scene was very concentrated nationally here in the US, with much of these same kids making up the bands, publishing the magazines, doing the artwork for the gig flyers and record jackets. It was a unprecedented and very creative scene."
These were the years of Ronald Reagan, against whose conservative policies the adolescent punks rebelled. "While the hardcore kids might not have been sophisticated or overtly educated in political terms, they had the smarts to smell a rat. And while it became a punk cliché to pen an anti-Reagan song, we all knew that there were great problems with the Reagan administration", Markey remembers. "Meanwhile Reagan was celebrated as the great North American president of his time. I never cared for him, but his presidency is one of innocence compared to George W. Bush, or his father, for that matter." Markey completes between laughter.
The 2005 edition of BAFICI will exhibit Markey’s films; The Slog Movie, Desperate Teenage Lovedolls, Lovedolls Superstar: Fully Realized, 1991 - The Year Punk Broke and (This Is Known as) The Blues Scale. These films were produced between 1981 (The Slog) and 1991 (The Year Punk Broke), something loaded of meaning for Markey: "I believe that the creative origins of what became popular and mainstream (with Nirvana in 1991) can be directly traced through the underground hardcore punk scene of the 1980’s. For me there is an obvious link between the two films, because the style and approach is very similar. You can also see how Black Flag would eventually give way to Nirvana.”
“These films were done for little or no money, with a one man show directing, photographing, and editing. I believe that that provides a very intimate view into this music, and these bands, and these kids. ".
Markey hesitates to call his work "Indie film”, yet his work is more true to the actual meaning of the word. “Back in the States, ‘the Indie film movement’ has become a marketing cliché. To me, true independent means complete control by the individual(s) making the work, not some major studio starting a false indie offshoot company to produce it’s more ‘edgier’ work. It happened with music first, all these so called ‘independents’ were actually the majors in disguise. " Markey relates.
"These five films are created outside any system, even outside the notion of ‘independent film ’. The mainstream does not hold my interest any less than any this so called 'Indie' ghetto whatever." For the director, the future may be in a film in which he will need "to work with the system" to produce: an autobiographical story he felt the necessity to write when less then a month ago, The now 41 year old Markey discovered he was adopted.
"The story is so improbable that nobody is going to believe it", it affirms Markey. “I am 41 years old and right when I was beginning to get bored with my world view, everything changes. Everything I though I knew about myself is now in question. This has me asking; what is the individual, and what it means to be a person in the context of a family, what forms a family, and who we are. Existential questions, very, very large. And many great coincidences. The same coincidences that has always been part of my life and my work."
Like, the title he created “1991: The Year Punk Broke” which at the time was a sarcastic quip, that would later prove to be a prophetic observation. The relationship with Sonic Youth (and through them, with Nirvana) began because Moore knew and liked the underground work of Markey and then grew with their shared "musical camaraderie". The relationship continues 20 years on, as Markey produced the only music video released off Sonic Youth’s latest (2004’s “Nurse” ) “I Love You Golden Blue”.
"I would not call it a professional relationship, it is a friendship", assures Markey.
"I’ve been fortunate enough to work with many bands I love and admire. Nirvana, Meat Puppets, Redd Kross, Shonen Knife, Mudhoney, Firehose, & others. I have had an unusual “career” (if I would ever dare call it such) and I feel like I am just getting started. Sonic Youth, and these bands never worry how they will look or come across in my work. They always trusted me and we always amuse ourselves working together. They are a unique band. They have been together almost twenty-five years and they never have the fear to change: for them, the art always is first. They are an inspiration."
The director also felt that proximity with Cobain: "Kurt reminded me of the friends I grew up in the Los Angeles hardcore scene. There was something instantly recognizable to me in him. Besides that, he was a great songwriter, and singer. It’s almost inconsequential to me that he lived fast and died young, and thus became a rock‘n’roll icon. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if he had managed to solve the problems that haunted him, the same problems that made him a great artist. I wonder what he would be doing right now.”
The films of Dave Markey - 1991: The Year Broke Punk (Thursday 14 to 21,45 in the Cosmos; Friday 15 to 14,30 in Hoyts 8; Sunday 17 to 24 in the Malba). - (This Is Known As) The Blues Scale & Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (Thursday 14 to 24 in the Cosmos; Saturday 16 to 21,15 in the Cosmos; Monday 18 to 14,15 in the Hoyts 8). - The Slog Movie (Friday 15 to 22; Saturday 16 to 14; Monday 18 to 23,30, all in Hoyts 11). - Lovedolls Superstar: Full Realized (Saturday 16 to 23,15 in the Cosmos; Sunday 17 to 13,45 in Hoyts 10; Saturday 23 to 23,45 in the Hoyts 8).