Director Paul Rachman and writer Steven Blush collaborated on every aspect of American Hardcore — literally. "This is a two-person operation," Blush explained as we settled into a booth at a downtown San Francisco restaurant, where the filmmakers (and passionate music fans) discussed their new documentary.
SFBG What drew you into the hardcore scene?
PAUL RACHMAN I was a college kid at Boston University in the early ’80s [when] I went to my first hardcore show at the Gallery East: Gang Green, the Freeze, and the FU's. I'd never heard anything like it. It was dissonant, it was loud, and it was coming from 16-year-old angry kids. It just socked it to me, and I wanted more of this all the time. That's what made me pick up a Super 8 camera and start shooting; it was the beginning for me in terms of both my introduction to hardcore and me becoming a filmmaker. Ever since those days I've never, ever done anything else.
STEVEN BLUSH Somewhere at the end of my freshman year [at George Washington University in Washington, DC], I saw Black Flag at Nightclub 9:30, right before Henry Rollins joined the band. It just wrecked my life. A decade later I realized how much the subculture affected me, as to who I am today — but I also realized that the history was totally lost. I just decided, DIY-style, to write a book. Around that time [when it came out], I ran into Paul again — we knew each other from the hardcore scene — and he broached the idea of making the film.
PR I instantly knew what the film should be. It needed to be this kind of visceral, first-person account — no narrator, no experts. Because hardcore didn't have that. You didn't listen to anybody. Nobody explained to you how to do anything. You didn't want that around, and the film had to reflect that. So it was documentary in its rawest, purest form: let your subject tell its story. We shot 120 interviews and it was about culling the story out of that.
SFBG Were there any artists not in the film that you wish you could have included?
SB There's two bands you will not see in American Hardcore: Dead Kennedys and the Misfits. With both bands there's a real problem between the singer and the other band members. It was like, if you work with one, you couldn't work with the other. We just had to bail out of that situation. Ultimately, this is the story of a culture. It's the story of a scene and a community. There were no stars in hardcore. We wanted every single person — we did extend the offer to everybody. But at a certain point, if they don't come through, you have to move on.
SFBG Do you hope that people who aren't hardcore fans will see the movie, and what do you think they'll take away from it?
SB American Hardcore is a rock film, but it's really about youth culture. It's a testament to the power of youth, about what you can achieve against all odds. Because these bands had nothing. They had no resources, no talent, no hot look. They had nothing to fall back on except their conviction. So it is kind of a clarion call to kids to say, you know, seize the moment. Take off the iPod. Log off MySpace and get with it. (Cheryl Eddy)
For an extended interview with Paul Rachman and Steven Blush, visit www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.