Chicago had a good punk rock scene back in the old days with a some really great bands but the problem was that few outside the confines of the city and surrounding suburbs knew about it back then. While the early punk rock scenes in New York and California actually got attention, got a few bands records deals, and have been documented in quite a few books, Chicago had none of that. It took a pair of local aspiring filmmakers to finally give Chicago its due in a documentary they spent a few years putting together and the result is this film, You Weren’t There.
The film was truly a labor of love and the two filmmakers spent a few years conducting interviews with as many people involved in the early Chicago punk scene as possible, as well as digging up as much footage of bands from back then as they could find in peoples closets and old drawers. The result is a two hour documentary that does an amazing job of telling the history of punk rock in the Windy City in a very informative and entertaining way.
It starts out telling how punk in Chicago started by a small handful of clubs deciding to play punk music and have one night a week devoted to it, which eventually led to the clubs turning totally punk. The strange thing was there was pretty much just one punk club at a time and when one would tragically close due to fires or the city shutting it down (remember punk was “dangerous” back then), a new one would replace it as the scene grew and evolved. Interviews with all the people involved in the clubs from the owners, to the patrons to the DJs participate and tell their various stories, all of which was totally fascinating and often humorous.
The clubs led to like minded punks meeting each other and forming bands and that is where the movie goes next. It starts with Chicago’s first punk rock band, Tutu and the Pirates, who were a great band that sadly never released any records (a prime example of why Chicago doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, not enough recordings came out). It also gives detailed stories of Da, Silver Abuse, The Wayouts, The Effigies, Articles of Faith, Naked Raygun, End Result, Mentally Ill, Big Black, and lots more. Each band covered has modern day interview footage with former members telling their stories and all of it is as entertaining as it is informative.
The shift from punk to hardcore, feuds between the Effigies and Articles of Faith, the feud between Vic Bondi and Steve Albini, violence, and more are all covered closing with how the scene everyone once new had all but died and had been replaced with what they all viewed as a not so pleasant new scene filled with jocks and generic hardcore bands. The common thread among most that participated in this film was that the Chicago punk rock scene was something really unique, exciting and special and is something that hasn’t been duplicated in the modern age.
The pacing and story was really well done and extremely fascinating. I saw this movie twice in a theater when they did screenings of it and didn’t take my eyes, ears, or mind off the film for even a second during the whole thing, it was totally riveting. On top of being such a great source of information, it also has a light hearted and comedic side which had me laughing out loud on multiple occasions which made it that much better. Even someone who has no knowledge or interest in the punk rock bands would find the story and movie a fun watch from start to finish.
The video is full frame which while being a bummer in the land of widescreen TV’s, makes sense since all the old footage they dug up was in that format and probably would have been worse for wear trying to reformat it. The sound is stereo and the mix was very well done with the interviews and the music so there was no need to keep the remote handy for any volume adjusting. The movie is just over two hours in length. Bonus features include some footage of Negative Element, “Strike Under”, and Mentally Ill from the movie release show two years ago at Beat Kitchen and some other old footage from a few of the bands featured in the film. There is also some extra interview footage with Mike and Anthony from Rights of the Accused talking about a few subjects which was quite humorous.
The DVD is available as a single disc standard release or in a limited edition package with a white vinyl LP with music from the various bands featured in the movie, some of which is unreleased and most of which is out of print. It’s housed in a gatefold LP jacket.
Of all the punk rock documentaries out there these days, You Weren’t There is among the cream of the crop. It is two hours of great entertainment and education and a wonderful document of a city’s punk scene that deserves to be more well known. It gets my highest recommendation.