Part 1: 1978-1989: The Post Punk Years

 Jubilee, Dir. Derek Jarmon (UK), 1978.

 It started with a woman… In this instance, Jordan, shop assistant at Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s shop Sex, original Sex Pistols fan, and manager of the nascent Adam and the Ants. Jarmon told Jon Savage that the original idea was to make a Super-8 of Jordan, but during 1977 he had started to collect punk fanzines, and was inspired and excited by these, to the extent that they began to influence the films script.

Whilst it could be read simply as a prolonged art school fuck off to the Queen’s silver jubilee that year, and it is possible that this is how it was read at the time, given it was slated upon release, over time the film has acquired new meanings and new praise. Both Jarmon, in an interview with Savage for Savage’s book ‘England’s Dreaming’, and Stuart Jeffries in a piece for The Guardian in 2007, have pointed to the films prophecy: In many ways the lawlessness, the physical and social decay, and the selling out of the punk characters to the entertainment industry mirror what happened to Britain in the 80’s, they have argued: the 1981 riots, new romantics…

Not only was Jarmon’s film the first punk film, it was also the first fictional punk film, and it featured a significantly female dominated cast: Jenny Runacre (in a duel role as Queen Elizabeth I and Bod), Jordan (as Amyl Nitrate), Hermione Demoriane (as Chaos), ‘Little’ Nell Campbell (as Crabs), and Toyah Wilcox (as Mad). There were also cameos by the Slits and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Whilst flawed in many respects, the film is good in its nihilism, in revealing the London landscape at the time, and in not being afraid to show genuine nastiness and violence, whether perpetrated by men or women. The ambiguous moral tone, and passive narrative seem to be what upset people the most. 

Continuing the themes set up in Jubilee, it could be argued, was Alan Moore’s comic ‘V For Vendetta’, later made into a film. This is, and was, a distinctly post-punk dystopeia. The nihilist strand can also been seen in Lynne Ramsey’s film adaptation of Alan Warner’s novel ‘Morvern Callar’.

Times Square, Dir. Allan Moyle, written by Jacob Brackman, Allan Moyle (story), and Leanne Unger (story) (US), 1980.

Times Square is a rare and beautiful film for many reasons. It is rare in the literal sense, only being available in Region 2 format as a German or Spanish import, but it’s also rare in it’s concept and in its performances. It is a female buddy film, a coming of age film, and a film in which rock’n’roll, adolescence and mental illness are all hopelessly, devastatingly, intertwined.

Robin Johnson plays the streetwise, tough, guitar playing juvenile delinquent Nicky Morata, and Trini Alvarado plays the sweet faced, quiet but very intense Pamela Pearl, daughter of a crusading politician who wishes to clean up New York’s Times Square.

By different routes the two girls find themselves sharing a room in the hospital, where they’ve been despatched by the police and social services and their father respectively for psychiatric evaluation. Nicky’s results clear, she is discharged but manages to abscond from her social worker and locate Pamela, who she asks to run away with her. The pair flee in a stolen ambulance.

Whilst the scenes in the hospital show the girls relationship shifting from initial hostility to something approaching friendship, the scenes depicting the girls new life on the streets of New York, holed up in an abandoned warehouse, hustling and dancing for money whilst pulling stunts and forming a band, are more a series of vignettes which really fail to coherently explore or develop their relationship. My good friend Jane Appleby wrote an excellent essay on this film, which you can read here:  and she attributes the disjointed nature of the film to studio interference which, amongst other things, had a heavy impact on the editing process. That aside, the film is still good and it avoids trite clichés or sentimentality, exploring the post punk underbelly of late 70’s New York, showcasing raw female anger and rebellion, and not shying away from the dark side of mental illness. As well as having a pretty good punk and post punk soundtrack, the homemade fashions adopted by Nicky and Pamela are also worth mentioning as they enhance the realism of the film and help to give it its unique look.

Robin Johnson as Nicky Morata was later cited by Courtney Love as an inspiration, and the film has also been cited as an influence on riot grrrl bands such as Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. Writer and director Allan Moyle, whilst having a reportedly unhappy time on this, his first film, would get his moment later on: Tim Curry’s role as the cocky antagonistic DJ (and voice of the dispossessed) Johnny Leguaria, plus Moyles interest in radio as a medium, rock’n’roll as a uniter, and creativity and mental illness, were all themes he would revisit later in his film career.

Here’s another essay on the film:

Carol, Gregory’s Girl, written and directed by Bill Forsyth (UK), 1981

“You’re worse than my dad, and he’s old; at least he’s got an excuse for being a prick”

(Carol arrives just over 9 minutes into this clip)

I feel that an honourable mention is needed in this list for Carol (Caroline Guthrie), the first of the three girls the hapless Gregory is escorted through town by towards the end of Gregory’s Girl. She is the one who arrives to tell him he’s been stood up by Dorothy, and delivers him into the hands of Margo (Carol McCartney), who then delivers him into the arms of a beret clad Susan (Clare Grogan). I’ve included this moment in this list because of the bit where, en route to the chip shop, Carol stops by a phone box, enters whilst Gregory waits outside, and strips off her demure mac, shirt and skirt, to reveal a classic bit of Fay Fife style post punk fashion. She emerges from the phone box happily saying that she “feels human again”, whilst Gregory gazes at her in horror.

The film is also interesting for its series of reversals: Girls good at football, boys crap at football but good at cooking, immature and childish older characters and mature and grown up younger siblings.

Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains!, Dir. Lou Adler, written by Nancy Dowd (US), 1982.

Corinne Burns (Diane Lane) is a teenage fry chef who becomes a minor celebrity when she is fired from her job live on air. Her mother died six months previously of lung cancer, aged 38, and she has formed an all girl punk band with her sister Tracy and cousin Jessica at the exact point where her world is collapsing around her. She takes comfort from this fantasy because she has nothing else: Her parents are both gone, she has no job, no money, and hates her neighbourhood. Her cousin Jessica (Laura Dern) meanwhile, is engaged in a private war with her mother and has changed her name to Peg.

The Looters, a band comprised of Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Paul Simonon and Ray Winstone (as Billy, the singer) play Corinne’s local punk venue. Winstone’s singer can be viewed as a synthesis of Lydon and Strummer essentially, but Corinne is very impressed and excited by them, to the extent that she goes backstage after the gig and tries to get an audition for her band. Alas Winstone gives Lane the bums rush, and it is left to the enthusiastic Jamaican bus driver to offer the Stains a slot on the tour, their tour manager being elsewhere. He is hoping that the presence of the nascent Stains on the tourbus will decrease the hostility between the Looters and the crap metal band who are headlining, the aptly named Metal Corpses.

As the tour progresses, the viewer is given a close up view of life on the tour bus, and the girls outsider status on it. Their first gig is something of a disaster, they are laughed at by the crowd, and things turn slightly ugly when Corinne launches into a feminist rant at the women in the audience. The misogyny the Stains have put up with on the tourbus is capped by an irate punter throwing a drink over Corinne, who rants: “I’m perfect! But nobody in this shithole gets me cos I don’t put out!”

Immediately after this, the body of one of the Metal Corpses is found, erm, dead in the women’s loos. The Stains are shocked, and Tracy tells Corinne she wants to go home: Corinne reminds her that she doesn’t have a home anymore, the lease having expired on their house just prior to them leaving on tour.

The Stains, and their outfits, attract a lot of media attention from a female news broadcaster, and she begins to report on the band, and on their growing legion of fans, who are copying Corinne’s black and white stripy hair and calling themselves ‘Skunks’. The nicest moment in the film occurs at this point, in that the journalist tracks down Jessica’s mother, played by Christine Lahti, who tells her how proud she is of the girls because they have avoided the fate that befell her and her sister, Marilyn, mother of Corinne and Tracy. She is pleased that they have done something with their lives and that they are having fun, and seems not much concerned about them having effectively run away.

As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Corinne is manipulating the media, and also Billy from the Looters. Winstone as Billy is a fully rounded character in a way that the rest of the Looters just aren’t: Simonon, Cook and Jones appear to be there simply to provide colour, and to bitch and say ‘bollocks’ a lot, which gets a bit tiresome. As the film continues though, the fates of Billy and Corinne (who have almost been a couple, but never really make it beyond the one night stand stage) become increasingly intertwined, and when the shit hits the fan, it is his doing.

Angry and humiliated by Corinne, who has stolen one of his songs, plus his stage act, and peeved to be shunted down to support act to The Stains, he exacts his revenge in a very public way, reminiscent of Lydon’s legendary ‘Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ speech as he rants to the Stains fans about how they have been used by Corinne. They believe him, and a full scale riot ensues.

When it’s all over, Corinne realises she is back to square one: no job, no money, no home. She beats up the tour manager in order to get some money out of him, and, in a rare act of kindness, gives the money to the Jamaican bus driver so he can get his brother out of prison.

She and Billy make up, but she refuses to go away with him. As she is standing around wondering what the hell to do, a Stains song is played on the radio, and she sees some Stains fans, who are still keeping the faith. She laughs. The film ends with a montage of the band on MTV, receiving gold records, and on the cover of Rolling Stone, whilst looking and sounding very like The Go-Go’s.

This ending is ironic given that Belinda Carlisle and Jane Weidlin attended the last ever Sex Pistols show as young punks, pre Go-Go’s, and received similar inspiration to that which Corinne receives from seeing The Looters.

Creation wise, the film appears to have been at least as much of a bureaucratic creative mess as Times Square. Like Times Square it was ready to be released in 1980, but unlike Moyle’s film it was held back by it’s director, meaning that instead of leaping out in 1980, it limped out in 1982, did very little, and limped back into hiding shortly afterwards. It was finally released on DVD about 5 years ago, but only as a region 1. It is still unavailable in region 2 format, but can be watched in 10 parts on Youtube.

As with Times Square, the film also went on to inspire the U.S riot grrrl scene and bands like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile.

As to Diane Lane, a mere two years after The Fabulous Stains was finally released, she starred in Streets Of Fire as a rock star who is kidnapped by a violent motorcycle gang leader, meaning she had the indignity of being tied to a bed by Willem Defoe and punched out by an amorous Michael Paré. There are some merits to Streets Of Fire, but Lane’s role, by and large, is not one of them. As strong female roles go, she is clearly outclassed in this film by Amy Madigan as Tom Cody’s sidekick, McCoy, and by Tom’s sister Reva (Deborah Van Valkanburgh.) I mention this by way of pointing out that Streets Of Fire is better known than The Fabulous Stains, and it also features Lane in a much more traditional female rock star role. I do not believe that these two things are coincidence.

Quincy, ‘Next Stop Nowhere’ (US), December 1982

Any budding sociologists interested in studying moral panics and media and cultural representations of youth subcultures would do well to watch this episode of Quincy M.E. I can’t recommend it any other capacity however as the first time I encountered it, like many similar age friends, was when I was revising for university exams in the early zeroes. Daytime T.V was full of old detective shows: Ironside, Columbo, Perry Mason, Shoestring, Bergarac, Murder She Wrote… and Quincy M.E. Given the context in which I viewed it, I have never been able to take it remotely seriously, full as it is of melodrama and hysterical cliché after cliché… what a contrast to the realism of Times Square and Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains! or the whimsical quirkiness of Carol in Gregory’s Girl…

The infamous line ‘Why would anybody wanna listen to music that makes them wanna hate?’ was sampled, again, around the early zeroes kind of period, on a happy hardcore record, representing once again the extent to which this episode has become a kitsch joke.

That aside, you can see, just from the clip above, that the propaganda machine was at work, and that this narrative was just a tiny jigsaw piece in a wider picture of anti-punk propaganda. I’ve included it here both because it represents this hysteria, but also because two young punk women are at the heart of the story: Abbie, the innocent led astray into the terrible dark world of punk, and Claire, the murderess who is seeking to implicate and then kill Abbie. Naturally Quincy nabs the right one, and saves Abbie from a fatal overdose. She quite possibly renounces her punk ways as well, but I can’t remember… I was past caring by then. It would fit the overall triteness of the story though.

For a more detailed analysis of this episode, including details on bands and locations featured, have a look at this:

In a spirit of fairness, I will concede that the writers of Quincy did also, some time previous to this episode, pen another youth moral panic episode, this time about Haight Ashbury, LSD and hippies, but whilst similarly hilarious, it lacked the vitriol of the punk episode. For further examples of textbook moral panic storylines within detective TV shows see also: Inspector Morse (Ecstasy, pirate radio, illegal raves, and suicide in the mid nineties), Pie In The Sky (Travellers and runaway teenagers, also in the mid nineties), Dalziel and Pascoe (Homicidal, sexually experimental and possibly incestuous club owners, early zeroes)

For another example of an explicit link being made between punk girls and violent crime, see More Tales From The City (adapted by Channel 4 from the Armistead Maupin novels) for a further depressing punk girl caricature: a very young teenage punk girl, known as Douchebag (Brigid Tierney), or Heidi to her mum, is hired by Beauchamp Day to assault his estranged wife, Dee Dee, with the intention of causing her to miscarry the twins she is expecting (who are not his) and only fails to do so when Beauchamp dies in a car crash. Another low point alas…

Suburbia, Dir. Penelope Spheeris (US), 1984.

Spheeris’ punk film seems to have been written almost as a reaction to the punk episode of Quincy. It features a similar kind of hysterical moral panic over punk, but unlike the Quincy episode, it plays on that hysteria and on the really dark and horrible places that hysteria can lead.

At the heart of the film is a family of punk kids who have run away from home and are living in a squat. Whilst the Quincy episode portrayed the punk kids as nihilistic stereotypes, obnoxious for the hell of it, with no real axes to grind, Suburbia reveals something a lot darker: whilst they are being obnoxious for the hell of it, some of the kids in the squat have run away from abusive parents, including a sixteen year old girl called Sheila (Jennifer Clay) who we see at the beginning of the film, before her punk transformation, thumbing a lift on the highway. Meanwhile, a young teenager called Evan, like Sheila, runs away from home. In his case it’s because he can’t take the verbal and physical abuse of his alcoholic mother any longer. When his mother causes a massive car crash and is booked for drunk driving, he returns home and rescues his little brother, Ethan, who also joins the squat, and acquires a Mohican haircut and war paint.

Of the films I’ve seen, I would say that this one is the one that feels the most authentic so far as showing real punks and real punk bands go. An early scene at a punk club depicts an audience looking variously bored, not paying attention to the band, posing, laughing, on the pull, selling drugs, and occasionally paying attention to the band. There’s the odd fight here and there, but the punks in the film spend equal amount of time being beaten up as doing the beating up I’d say.

There are about four girls in the squat, and they mother Evan’s little brother to varying degrees, including reading him a fairy story at bedtime and teaching him an unorthodox way of blowing his nose. Sheila is the only central female character. An intense girl, it is revealed as the story progresses that she has run away from home because her father was beating and sexually abusing her. Not long after confessing this to her new boyfriend, a group of vigilantes, who have been waging a ‘Citizans Against Crime’ campaign against the punks, break into the punk squat and assault her by tearing off her shirt and gagging her whilst they threaten the others. The morning after this assault, she is found dead from a drugs overdose, having killed herself.

Spheeris makes a point about hypocrisy and moral standards by showing the supposedly moralistic vigilantes watching a strip show in a sex club as they plot another assault on the punk squat, but the punk women in this film are not ‘othered’ in the way that they are in The Fabulous Stains, possibly because none of the bands feature any women. The women in the squat are in the position of being ‘one of the guys’, that is, part of the gang. Only Sheila is perceived as being slightly outside of that gang, both by class distinction (she is described as middle class at one point) and also because she is perceived at one point as being anti-sex.

Whilst the assault on Sheila and her subsequent suicide are particularly sad and shocking moments in the film, they aren’t the only shocking moments. The films final twist is the moment that will stay with you long after the film has finished.

Mary Smith, Eastenders, (UK), 1985-1988

Mary Smith was played by Linda Davidson. The characters Wiki. Biog has her growing up in Stockport of Irish Catholic parents, and she was developed initially as a young single mother because Eastenders was keen to develop diverse characters. The punk aspect of her character appears to have been incidental, but it was incorporated into the characters history, it being why she ran away from home. Throughout her time in the soap, the character of Mary was at the heart of storylines involving prostitution, unemployment, drugs, and her child being taken away from her by social services. Typical Eastenders fare, but yet another case of a punk woman being portrayed as damaged.

Davidson was born in Canada but grew up in Southport, which makes me wonder why the writers chose to have her come from Stockport instead. What was wrong with Southport? Consequently, her character suffered from the same lack of attention to detail that the Macclesfield characters in Control suffered from: none of them nailed the accent, plumping instead for a sort of generic Coronation Street schtick.

I did watch Eastenders around the time Davidson would have been in it (1987 ish) but I only discovered her character after the fact as I think all other storylines probably still took second place to the ongoing Burton and Taylor for the 80s plot that was the Den and Angie saga.

 Julie Warner, Byker Grove (UK), 1989-1992(?)

Byker Grove was written by Adele Rose (though the titles from 1989 say ‘Carrie Rose’) and was shown on the BBC’s kids T.V slot between 1989 and 2002. The character of Julie Warner was played by Lucy Walsh. She was introduced into the series as a posh girl who had grown up in Wimbledon, and came across as quiet and aloof, leading the mouthy Donna to christen her ‘Princess Julie’. Whilst coping with her parents marital breakdown, and the move to Tyneside, Julie is attracted to the resident bad boy Martin in what is a classic North/South, Posh/Working Class, Good Girl/Bad Boy storyline. As I remember it, they have an on/off romance, which invariably ends in tragedy: Romeo TWOCs a car, crashes it, and dies, and a shaken Julie(t) departs. Prior to this though, she drastically changes her image. Out with the clean cut, in with back combed stick up hair, panstick makeup, and lots and lots of black… This look lasted about 1 episode I think, after which Julie kept the black but reduced the makeup and had her hair cut very short. The sudden change occurred, I think, in an off period with the boyfriend, and possibly coincided with her parents decision to divorce. The Julie story is told in the first of the Byker Grove novels, simply called ‘Byker Grove’.

There’s no clips by the way because I can’t find any… Did I hallucinate the whole thing? I don’t believe so…

In similar territory, ITV’s Childrens Ward around the same time referenced punk/post punk fashions with one of the new nurses, who was told off for coming into work in pink fluorescent tights instead of beige, with a corresponding day glo pink lock of hair at the front.

(A rough guide to kids t.v in the late 80’s/early nineties in the UK: Byker Grove was on the BBC and filmed in Newcastle, it was based around the goings on of kids attending and staff working at a youth club, the eponymous Byker Grove. Children’s Ward was on ITV and filmed in Mancheser by Granada. Big shows around the same time would have been Grange Hill, filmed in London by the BBC, Streetwise, about a collective of bike couriers in Manchester, filmed by Granada for ITV, and Round The Twist, an Australian import, which had by far and away the best theme tune..)

To read part 2, click here

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