Dave Markey is a southern California filmmaker, primarily. He’s been involved in the L.A. punk scene in many ways since the early 80s. He directed the phenomenal documentary, 1991: The Year Punk Broke, in which Markey followed Sonic Youth and their opening band, Nirvana, on a European tour. This was pre-Nevermind. The film features performances and candid moments with the likes of Dinosaur Jr., Babes in Toyland, Gumball, The Ramones and Courtney Love.
The film is being screened tonight at the Walter Reade Theater at 8:15. For info, click here.
For the last year Markey has been working on another documentary, The Reinactors, which chronicles Hollywood icon impersonators. It was screened at the 37th Annual International Film Festival of Rotterdam, the New York United Film Festival and the Buenos Aires Festival International Cine Independent, among others. The film is being released on DVD in June.
Keep reading for details and insights into The Year Punk Broke, comments on Lee Renaldo’s hair and stories of violent Marilyn Monroe and Freddy Kruger impersonators.
Q. 1991: The Year Punk Broke is being screened at the Walter Reade Theater in NYC on Monday, did you have anything to do with that? Will you be there?
I made the film available to them. I understand it’s a nice joint. Unfortunately I wont be there, I can’t make it to every screening. I was at the ATP NY last year, that was a blast. I also got to show the sister sequel made from unused footage from the film called (This Is Known As) The Blues Scale.
Q. Looking back on the film now what do you see as different, in both the music industry and in the film industry?
Well the music business is totally different, as is culture, and the political landscape. A few key people are dead in all of my films (including 1991: The Year Punk Broke). So this is an answer that could go on for days. That window in time (summer ’91) seems so innocent and sweet at this late date. It certainly was for Nirvana. It was right before they went over the top massive, and things were never really the same for them shortly after the tour and shooting was over.
Q. Was The Year Punk Broke filmed on video? What do you use now? Do you “like” digital technology?
No, it was shot on Super 8 film. And it looks great if you are able to track down a VHS or Laserdisc copy of it. If you watch the film online, (I know people have posted it to You Tube and the like), it looks and sounds like crap. I wouldn’t suggest viewing the film this way. I’m still burning a candle for the DVD release.
Q. Was it fun to go on tour and make that movie? What are some of the scenes you had to cut??
It was great fun, and I think that comes across in the film. No one asked for any changes. I worked from very limited sources. I only had like 8 hours of footage total. I did not have to cut anything (though I probably should have nixed the bathroom scene, “Pink Flamingos”). It was a statement for its time I suppose. It was an amazing experience, and all the artists involved were beyond cool with what I put together.
Q. What was it like working with Kurt Cobain? You said it seemed like an innocent time and nothing was the same for them after that tour. Can you be more specific? I assume you mean the media attention on them changed things?
I caught a local news report on the arrest of one of the characters (Freddy Krueger). I had no real idea of what was actually going on out on the boulevard with these people, but I borrowed a camera and went down to investigate. I thought they were employees of Graumen’s or the Hollywood & Highland complex. I didn’t know they were just people who decided to actually dress as film characters and hustle tourists for photographs. It wasn’t before long many of the people I had photographed and interviewed were also arrested, and I was fully hooked on documenting their world.
Q. It’s being released on DVD in June, will you host any events, parties?
I want to screen the film on Hollywood Blvd. That’s the goal I’ve had since completing it since fall of ’07. I did screen it to the characters in LA at the New Beverly upon completing the film (before it went to the festivals). But if only I had the dough to rent the Chinese Theater…
Q. That must have been interesting meeting all those “reinactors.” Any good stories?
Yes, and they are thankfully in the film. You could not write this stuff, it’s just so unbelievable (their collective life stories). They are thoroughly fascinating people. The film is both funny and tragic. There was some stuff I left out, but I represented these people as who they are, for better or worse. I was attacked physically by the Marylin Monroe, and continue to be stalked by Freddy two years after I stopped shooting.
Marilyn attacked me after she saw the trailer to the Reinactors. There’s a clip where she’s vamping as Monroe, and she does a kick turn and her dress goes up and you can see her panties. Not like she wasn’t aware of that at the time. However, once the trailer went online and she saw me out on the boulevard she physically hit me and the camera. She actually said to me in all seriousness “You are ruining my career!”
Freddy is a lot more complicated. Let’s just say he has something to say about everything and he lets me know in very long emails. He once called me and asked him if I could take him to Oscar parties, as if I’m actually inside the film business. He also wasn’t pleased that I included in the film (as he was portraying James Dean) him accidentally outing himself.
Q. I read you’re publishing a book of photographs. How did that come about?
I did a fanzine (We Got Power) in the early 80’s covering the LA punk scene, myself and Jordan Schwartz took a lot of photographs and I also shot a lot of film. 28 years later they are being compiled into a volume published through Abrams titled “Party With Me Punker”, which is from a song by the Minutemen which just so happened to be written by Mike Watt for especially for Jordan and the compilation record we did in 1983 called “Party Or Go Home”. Excited about this finally coming together, as we’ve been working on it off and on for several years.
Q. Thurston Moore is editing it. Will he write something for it too? Are you still in contact?
Yes, he’s selecting from over 1200 photos. I’ve been friends with Thurston for what, 25 years now? I think he wrote something for it, I’m not sure. I know he did an extensive interview with Jordan and I for it.
Q. What else are you working on?
There is also a second book being published along side “Party With Me Punker” (titled simply “We Got Power”) which compiles all the zines, including the unpublished 6th issue along side selecting writings from Joe Carducci, Dez Cadena, Janet Housden, The Euge, Human T Shirt, Tony Adolescent, Sean Wheeler, Jordan and Jennifer Schwartz, and a few others. I also wrote an autobio, I titled “Dark Circles” inspired by the accidental uncovering of my adoption at the age of 41, I have also been working on that over the past few years.
Q. Are you surprised that Sonic Youth are still together?
Yes and no. They are one of the few reliable constants, so I shouldn’t be surprised. I am more amazed at the lack of the discernible aging of it’s members. (At least outside of Lee’s gray hair).
Q. You’ve directed a ton of music videos. Which one was your favorite and will you ever do it again?
I love working with Sonic Youth and I think the video I did for “Superstar” is probably one of the better ones I did. I also like the no-budget Ciccone Youth “Mac Beth” clip. Money has never determined the real quality of my work, and lord knows I’ve made due with very little of it throughout much of my work.
Q. Who was your favorite band to shoot?
I like it all, but film probably comes first. I dream film. I had a dream about Super-8 last night in fact.
Q. What was the dream?
The dream was fuzzy, what I recall of it was, I was in some store and the dvd’s and blu-rays were replaced by movies on Super-8 (they used to do this years ago, release truncated versions of films on Super-8 so peeps could play them on their projector). I’m old.