Salad Days: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90) [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - MVD Visual
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (5th December 2015).
The Film

“Salad Days” (2014)

With punk music emerging in the 1970’s places like New York had bands like The Ramones, Television, Blondie, Detroit had The Stooges and The MC5, Los Angeles had The Germs, X, and The Descendents, and London had The Sex Pistols, The Clash, and Wire. But another scene that made a huge impact especially in the 1980’s was in Washington D.C.

D.C. kids were embracing the new style of hard lo-fi raw sound of the music, the fashion, and the anarchistic anti-establishment themes, but at the same time there was huge backlash from the people that didn’t “get it”. Punk kids were at times bullied, harassed, and beaten by random people who felt threatened by kids in leather jackets, which according to the interviewed participants in the documentary film “Salad Days”, were actually quite frequent. Punk kids who wanted to show their fashion and support had to walk down the streets of DC having to look every which way to make sure some rednecks weren’t around the corner waiting for them. The late 1970’s had a share of punk bands to emerge from DC, notably Bad Brains, still widely considered one of the most influential and original punk bands ever, differing from all others by being an all-black band and incorporating jazz, soul, and reggae into their hardcore sound.

With 1980, bands like The Teen Idles, Minor Threat, and State Of Alert released records independently by newly formed record label Dischord Records, causing the DC punk movement to spread wider. Dischord Records were the ultimate DIY label, pressing, designing, printing, distributing everything themselves, which still continues to this day. One thing that DC punk bands were quick to embrace was the importance of youth being able to enjoy the music. Dischord Records priced their records at extremely low prices so kids could buy them without overpaying. They made sure to have shows for “All Ages” at clubs by introducing a simple form of Xs: underage concertgoers got Xs marked on their hands to let staff know they were underage and couldn’t drink.

Of course not all was positive fun: D.C. hit a low with soaring crime rates and crack-cocaine hitting the streets in themed-80’s, bands like Minor Threat disbanded causing discourse for punk fans and musicians. 1985 led to “Revolution Summer”: a movement by D.C. bands like Rites of Spring, Soulside, Gray Matter, and others were out to revitalize the punk scene, with a slicker sound, politically conscious mindset, and of course a driving force in punk sound. In the following years, Fugazi would form to become one of the most influential and original sounding punk bands from the area, female led punk groups, emocore and the straight-edge movement, and eventually the knocking on the door from the major labels.

"Salad Days" focuses on the Washington D.C. punk scene from 1980-1990, featuring interviews with artists that helped define the scene such as Henry Rollins (State of Alert, Black Flag, Rollins Band), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi), Dave Grohl (Scream, Nirvana, Foo Fighters) while also featuring interviews with artists who were from elsewhere that were hugely inspired by the D.C. sound such as Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) and J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.). Although stated “1980-1990” the documentary follows from the 1970’s as it mentions about the 70’s influences as well as the Teen Idles debut record coming out in 1979, and continues a bit in the 90’s with the majors being especially interested in D.C. bands following the success of Nirvana. Bands like Jawbox and Shudder To Think went to the majors, but no D.C. bands caused much of an impact towards mainstream radio in the 1990’s. The film flows in chronological fashion though there are some things that don’t seem to happen correctly, as they point out the crime rate and drug problems of D.C. in the 1980’s that led to “Revolution Summer” in 1985, in which they reference the infamous incident of then D.C. mayor Marion Barry being caught with crack cocaine in a hotel room with a prostitute on camera. That incident took place in 1990. Though incorrectly placed in the timeline, it is true that D.C. was not exactly a safe place with Reaganomics giving very little support to the war on crime and doing little to help the poor, much more relying on sending troops to Afghanistan, Nicaragua, and Panama, rather than home support. Very sad especially that this is the nation’s capital we are talking about.

Director Scott Crawford was a young kid during the D.C. punk movement, but that didn’t stop him from going to shows as a boy and also creating the fanzine “Metrozine” and later publications such as “HARP”. Cinematographer and editor Jim Saah was a photographer that documented much of the movement in the 1980’s, photographing various bands over time which was published in various fanzines of the time to eventually major newspapers and magazines such as Rolling Stone. With a Kickstarter campaign for funding and over 4 years of interview footage cut together, “Salad Days” was finally completed in 2014. As a film that was made by fans that were there from the start, one portion missing was the input from people on the outside. Non-fans of the movement, the negative reactions from outsiders and a critical look from the outside would have been interesting to hear, but pretty much the entire film is told from insiders of the scene. While it may seem a little pretentious, this is a film by the fans for the fans.

“Salad Days” is a very interesting look at the underappreciated punk music scene that gets overshadowed by the larger cities. It’s great to hear the former punk rockers (and some still going) in their own words about the fun and excitement, as well as the bad times and struggles they went through to make things happen. At the same time a bit disheartening to see everyone look so much older, but that’s inevitable. They may be older now, but the records of their youth still stand the test of time, continuing to influence kids to this day.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray which can be played back on any Blu-ray player worldwide.

Video

MVD presents the film in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio in 1080p in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. Almost all the interview segments were shot in HD, with a few interviews being slightly lower quality from earlier sources. The concert footage on the other hand are from vintage VHS and Beta sources, which suffer in quality.

The interview segments look pretty good but not pristine. Colors look a bit flat, though sharpness is fine. As for the concert footage, coming from standard definition source tapes that were probably not stored in the best conditions, tape errors and lack of clarity are just some of the problems. But since the clips are used in short moments only, it isn’t a huge distraction, only giving the film a more fitting lo-fi and vintage aesthetic. Still photos look great, with some occasional post production scratches, shakes, and movement applied intentionally.

Audio

There are 2 audio options:

English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo


Note to distributors releasing music based films on Blu-ray: Please use lossless audio!
It’s almost a crime that the audio tracks offered are lossy Dolby Digital tracks, which have no difference than the simultaneously issued DVD edition of the film. But regardless of that, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track actually sounds quite good. Interviews are center channel based while the music fills all the surrounding speakers fully. Music comes in loud and clear and the interviewees are never drowned out by the music.

There are no subtitles provided on the disc.

Extras

Extended Interviews
With the countless hours of interviews, it seems quite paltry that many people are given around a minute or less in the bonus features. Some interesting stories here and there, but just couldn’t be incorporated into the final film.

- Alexis Fleisig - on being invited to the party (0:49)
in 1080i

- Brian Baker - on playing to his strengths (1:00)
in 1080p

- Fred "Freak" Smith - "I'm not the bass player!" (0:34)
in 1080i

- Ian MacKaye - getting the whole room to sing (0:36)
in 1080i

- Ian MacKaye - on making a video for MTV (0:51)
in 1080p

- Kevin Seconds - on first discovering DC and straight edge (0:52)
in 1080i

- J. Mascis - "Boston had great drummers." (0:34)
in 1080p

- Meghan Adkins - on playing to a DC audience (1:03)
in 1080i

- Monica Richards - boys club (0:48)
in 1080i

- Nicole Thomas - "There weren't any rules." (0:54)
in 1080i

- Pete & Franz Stahl - on what made DC so unique (0:46)
in 1080i

- Henry Rollins - on playing live for the first time (0:53)
in 1080i

- Scott Crawford - writer/director age 12 outside club (0:43)
in 480i

- Jon Wurster - on missing Minor Threat play live (1:35)
in 720p

Live Performances (with Play All)
Some of the live performances can be seen within the film, but here are songs in their entirety. Since the source material comes from video tape, be aware these can be hard to watch and hard to listen to. All performances are in Dolby Digital 2.0 dual mono except for the final performance, in stereo.

- Embrace - 9:30 Club, Washington DC, 1986 (last show) (2:20)
Sound quality is pretty good, from a videotape source.
in 480i, in stretched 2.35:1

- Beefeater - Food For Thought, Washington DC, 1984 (2:00)
Heavily distorted loud sound, from a low definition source, with pixilation. Be sure to turn down your volume level on this one.
in 480i, in 1.33:1

- Fugazi "Bad Mouth" - Frederick, MD, 1990 (2:34)
Sound is extremely low, though the image is good considering the video source.
in 720p, in stretched 1.78:1

- Government Issue - Wilson Center, Washington DC, 1985 (1:23)
Sound and video are quite good, and whoever directed this really wanted to show off editing techniques.
in 480i, in 1.33:1

- Gray Matter - Roof of Food For Thought, Washington DC, 1985 (1:57)
Sound is distorted especially with the vocals and the instruments sound muffled, but what an excellent song.
in 480i, in 1.33:1

- Holy Rollers - The Off Ramp, Seattle, WA 1990 (3:11)
There are requent audio dropouts during the performance, taken from footage from one camera on stage, shooting the band and the audience, with lens flares galore.
in 720p, in 1.78:1

- Marginal Man - George Washington University, Washington DC, 1985 (1:40)
The sound is extremely low on this video tape. The Sound also has issues with audio dropouts.
in 720p, in stretched 2.35:1

- Mission Impossible - Lake Braddock Community Center, Burke, VA 1985 (2:27)
Some instances of videotape tracking and errors cause audio and video to turn to static on a few occasions. It’s fun to see the band performing at a community center, where no stage was prepared so there is no division between the band and the fans.
in 480i, in 1.33:1

- Soulside "Baby" music video by Jake Huffman (7:51)
The sound and video are especially good as this is not an amateur video like the others on the disc, but a “professionally” edited video from Dischord Records, featuring concert footage and video editing techniques.
in 1080i, in 1.78:1

- Gray Matter - performs the 3 song "Swann Street" at Black Cat Anniversary (4:21)
As this is a recent concert, shot in HD in 2012 for the Anniversary of the DC club “Black Cat”, it looks and sounds absolutely great, with well edited and colorful video with sound directly from the mixing board rather than from the camera speakers.
in 1080p, in 1.78:1, in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo

So, no commentary or interviews from the filmmakers, no insightful making-of explaining how they got the project rolling, which is something fans would have liked to know. Also a post-script in where D.C. punk is now going would have been nice to hear, but alas, these extras are not to be found on here.

Overall

MVD’s presentation of “Salad Days” on Blu-ray could have been better, as the lossy soundtracks and limited bonus content is concerned, but fans of the music and the film will definitely be satisfied. Like many other movies coming “in twos”, there were not one but two documentaries based on the 80’s punk scene in D.C. with “Salad Days” and “Positive Force: More Than a Witness” which mostly focused on “Revolution Summer” of 1985. Fans should definitely check out both films.

The Film: B Video: B Audio: B- Extras: C Overall: B-

 


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