Monday, 16 June 2008

The Last Pogo!

Above: David Quinton-Steinberg speaks to Chris Haight

Yesterday I had the pleasure of accompanying Signed by Force head honcho Ram Borcar to see Colin Brunton's 1978 Toronto punk documentary The Last Pogo, screened as the grand (cinematic) finale of this year's NXNE Festival. The theatre was packed for the film's first public screening since 1980 (when it was booked at the Cinesphere to open for Richard Pryor Live in Concert, and was then removed from its support slot after a fortnight due to, "a violent and negative reaction"); the audience appeared by and large to be contemporaries of the scene, and it was evident that this was something of a reunion for many there.

Before the film began, Colin Brunton gave a short introduction and drew our attention to some folks in the audience who actually performed at The Last Pogo thirty years ago - among them one Cardboard Brain (Vince Carlucci), one Mod/Dead Boy (David Quinton-Steinberg), one Secret/Viletone (Chris Haight), and no less than three Scenics (Andy Meyers, Ken Badger and Mark Perkell). There was even a Gary (Gary Topp, that is) in attendance!

The screening began with a video for The Scenics' cover of "Waiting For The Man", during which live footage was intercut with various famous heads (Jimi Hendrix, Saddam Hussein, William S. Burroughs, and so on) morphing in and out of each other, a la Michael Jackson's "Black Or White" video. After that, the half-hour documentary began - comprising footage shot in a single night at the end of The Gary's nine-month residence booking The Horseshoe Tavern (on Queen West just east of Spadina).

The idea was commemorate the best of the area's punk scene; the performances include The Scenics, The Cardboard Brains, The Secrets, The Mods, The Ugly, The Viletones, The Ugly, and a closing performance by Hamilton's Teenage Head that was so raucous as to be barely discernible (they were allowed to play one song before the cops closed the gig).

Highlights included: a rare chance to see The Ugly throw down live (they certainly seemed to have a way with the ladies), The Scenics' angular styles, and an amusing on-screen reminder that, since The Forgotten Rebels didn't play, The Last Pogo was hardly representative of the area's best punk bands. I also enjoyed the visceral reaction to The Viletones' appearance here; as soon as Steve Leckie/Nazi Dog appeared onscreen, the room filled with hisses and boos. When the band compared their music to a shot of dope, the audience's derision was again obvious, folks laughing and/or groaning out loud.

One of the more interesting revelations of the film concerns the audience that was there in 1978. There's a few "punk" looking people sure, but I was frankly shocked by all the long hair and handlebar moustaches. And by all the ways in which things haven't changed at all, from the curtained little door at the side of the Horseshoe stage to the seemingly time-honoured tradition of lame Toronto non-reaction greeting the first bands of the night. But yeah, those moustaches...this was a far cry from the audiences of Don Letts' Punk Rock Movie or Penelope Spheeris' The Decline of Western Civilization; more working-class, less stylized, more "rock" overall if you will.

It's a shame that no female (or even female-fronted) acts were featured; let's not forget that two of the first female punk bands in North America were from Toronto (The Curse and The B-Girls). Unless I'm mistaken, those bands were still around at the time of The Last Pogo, who knows why they weren't there? Maybe The Garys didn't like them, I don't know. Rough Trade played the second night (for more on that, see Tony Malone from Drastic Measures' comments here), but none of that night's shows made the cut of the film.

Maybe there's some more footage in storage? Whole sets? Footage of the second night? Colin Brunton has been working on a follow-up for the last couple of years, and as part of that effort has been trying to track down all 500 or so people who were there in 1978. The Last Pogo Jumps Again is supposed to come out either this year or next, with a DVD combining the two films likely to follow.

[Addendum: Colin Brunton was kind enough to respond to this post and clear up a few points. To wit, The Curse were not around during The Last Pogo, the second night was not filmed, and the Last Pogo DVD will be released along with two short films. Please see the Comments for more details.]


Pogo said...

Hey, ho.

Thanks for the blog (from the guy who made the film).

Just to set the record straight:

-- The Curse weren't around at the time of The Last Pogo. B-Girls mighta been, not sure, but they certainly weren't in anyone's bad books

-- I woulda shot the second night (The Last Bound-Up), but Carole Pope of Rough Trade turned me down, saying that "...I don't want to be associated with punk or new-wave..."

-- The Last Pogo will be released along with two shorts I made (The Mysterious Moon Men of Canada, with music by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet; and A Trip Around Lake Ontario, with music by Nash the Slash) on December 1, and the new film should be done by March, 2009.

Check out the website for bloggy things.

Pius said...

Thanks for the clarifications. Too bad about the second night, but those shorts sound very interesting and I really look forward to the DVD!

James said...

A nice summary of both the film and the screening. And thanks for linking to my review as well. Looking forward to both the DVD release and the follow-up film (just wish there were more Teenage Head footage!)