Punk Britannia Part 2: The Documentaries of Wolfgang Büld

Like Raw Energy, the subject of my first “Punk Britannia” post, Wolfgang Büld’s two documentaries on early British punk put you right into the scene as it was happening–before the codification, commercialization, and disillusion set in. Although Büld had a shaky sense of which bands really mattered (The Sex Pistols and The Damned are nowhere to be seen, while  also-rans like Chelsea get significant screen time), both of his films offer a “you are there” immediacy that more than compensates for their iffy production values.

They also benefit from an outsider’s perspective. Büld was a Munich film student who had heard vague rumblings about an exciting new music scene happening in a few small London clubs. Intrigued, he traveled to the U.K. and shot Punk in London (1977) to fulfill the “documentary” part of his course requirements.

Punk in London gets off to a roaring start, with the Jam performing “Carnaby Street” and “In the City,” and Jimmy Pursey mooning Mark P.–all within the first five minutes. (For some reason, Büld doesn’t identify any of the bands or interviewees, so it helps to have some familiarity with the scene’s major players.) We get a glimpse of Kevin Rowland in his pre-Dexys band The Killjoys, The Stranglers’ J. J. Burnel giving the filmmakers guff and stating that he’s “suspicious of German motives,” a pub full of baffled teddy boys trying to figure out what it all means, and many other time-capsule moments.  Musical highlights include the ubiquitous X-Ray Spex performing “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!”; The Adverts ripping through “One Chord Wonders”;  some rare footage of my beloved Subway Sect performing “Ambition” (it sounds murky, but I’ll take what I can get); and a mini-Clash set featuring “Hate and War,” “Police and Thieves,” and “Garageland.”

Büld’s follow-up film, which catches up with the scene in 1980, is known variously as Punk in England, Punk and Its Aftershocks, and British Rock–Ready for the ’80s. Shorter and more shapeless than its predecessor, it is perhaps the more musically rewarding of the two. In addition to The Clash, The Jam, Ian Dury, The Pretenders, mod revivalists Secret Affair, and Spizzenergi’s unstoppable “Where’s Captain Kirk?”, the film features an extensive middle section devoted to Two-Tone pioneers The Specials, Madness, and The Selecter. And then there’s Bob Geldof, holding forth as only he can.