It’s not often that a documentary really gets to me on a personal level, mostly because it’s hard for me to separate the filmmaker from the film. Take, for example, any of Michael Moore’s creations in his continual quest to sully the category of Documentary. Behind the images and voices put on screen is a clear agenda and a deliberate manipulation of events so obviously designed to shape the perceptions of the viewer that one almost can’t help but roll his or her eyes and pass such blatant fictionalizations off as gussied-up Saturday morning cartoons. Or Morgan Spurlock’s infamous Super Size Me, in which he outlines an indictment of McDonald’s based on the plain-as-day fact that eating too much of their food will cause an individual to gain weight. Then there are films like “Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price” that claim to investigate a subject, when in reality they are merely pursuing one angle of a story towards a conclusion drawn well in advance. But even when watching more benign programming such as nature documentaries or works by the venerated Ken Burns, it’s difficult for me to just sit back and learn rather than seeing the work as a presentation of information deliberately skewed in one way or another by the lens of its creator. And so, this rather skeptical attitude makes it somewhat difficult for me to watch a documentary and really internalize what I am seeing rather than merely viewing it as a presentation of one particular viewpoint.
But when watching The Other F Word, I really did get somewhat lost in the subject matter and found myself becoming emotionally involved with the information I was consuming. Sure, like any documentary, everything here is presented from a particular viewpoint and there are myriad other stories to be told rather than the narrative that was shaped by director Andrea Blaugrund Nevins. But the subject matter was so interesting, and the characters so compelling, that I couldn’t help but get roped in and even fascinated, at times, with what I was watching.
After decades of sonic bombardment and near-endless touring, punk rock staples from the late 80’s and mid 90’s like Rancid, NOFX, Blink-182, The Vandals, Bad Religion, and the rest of their contemporaries are now mostly grown up. Time, as poet Delmore Schwartz said, “is the fire in which we burn,” and as the members of these bands have aged, they have all faced the same inevitable choice: make the transition into what society would call adulthood, or continue prolonging the anarchistic days of their youth including all the trappings such a lifestyle entailed such as tattoos, piercings, counterculture apparel, disrespect for authority, and a firm adherence to the raised-middle-finger mentality so central to the punk rock ethos. And so Nevins sets out to see what has become of these men now that many of them are parents and (gasp!) figures of authority in their own families.
The central figure here is Jim Lindberg, singer and frontman for the band Pennywise, who sets out for yet another tour with his band and leaves his wife and three daughters at home for the better part of a year. We see him pack his suitcase, including Barbie dolls from his kids and black hair dye to mask his greying locks, and head out to do what he’s always done: play music. The contrast is shocking at first, as we see Lindberg and his bandmates on stage inviting their audience to request songs by shouting titles out but requiring that every one be augmented by a dose of vulgar profanity. Shocking not because such is the nature of the punk rock scene, but because we first see Lindberg goofing around with his family, driving his daughters to school in a perfectly sensible midsize SUV, and participating in what is otherwise an entirely unremarkable slice of modern-day middle-class American lifestyle.
Woven through Jim’s tale are stories of several of his punk rock counterparts who have similarly navigated the turbulent waters of post-adolescent rebellion and now found themselves with families, responsibilities, and being in the somewhat ironic position of setting rules and limits for their own children. Myriad interviews reveal grown men who are struggling to identify themselves in a society in which the angst-fueled anti-authoritarian spirit of their youth is now a prepackaged commodity, sold to teenagers in trendy mall stores like Hot Topic. Some of the guys have clearly found ways to make the change work, and some seem like they are still treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry while their fellow rockers-turned-fathers have all gone home to bed. Mark Hoppus ruminates on how his new perspective on life makes him embarrassed to sing some of his band’s racier songs. Flea talks about how his daughters have entirely changed his outlook on life. Fat Mike, who admits in an interview that he and his wife vowed not to change as they grew up, drives his daughter to a stuffy private school in a shiny new SUV while decked out in spiked hair and chains. The film’s most powerful moments come from the interview segments with Duane Peters, who has clearly lost more than a few marbles in his younger days but has emerged with a new perspective on life despite losing his son in a car wreck. The only weak point is the inclusion of Tony Hawk, the pro skater who seems to have been added to the cast more as a marketing stunt than to offer any real substance.
What is notable about this movie, though, is what it does not include. The focus here is squarely on these aging alt-rock stars, and rarely do their wives or children get any screen time. What is it like to be the wife of an middle-aged punker? We never really find out. Lindberg is seen talking with his family on the phone while on tour, and even setting up for a Skype video call. But when the video feed dies Nevins focuses on Lindberg, and avoids what I assume must be rather intense frustration from his daughters who were so eager to tell their daddy about their day. It’s these moments that could have added so much to the film, and ultimately hinder it from being a truly singular look at its subject. As it stands, though, The Other F Word is still an extremely interesting and compelling film, and even made me think about the vestiges of my youth that I still carry with me and what I might need to cast off as I struggle to be a good father to my own son.
Last 5 posts by Simon R.
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