Chicago probably isn’t the first place that you think of when you think of punk rock circa 1977 to 1984.
London, the land of the Sex Pistols and The Clash, more likely. Or New York, home of The Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads. Even Los Angeles, with X and Black Flag.
But Chicago’s contributions, limited as they may have been, get the recognition they deserve in Joe Losurdo and Christina Tillman’s rock doc.
From bands such as Tutu & The Pirates and Bohemia through Naked Raygun and Big Black, punk in Chicago thrived in difficult conditions, including coming up against misguided Mayor Jane Byrne and the Chicago police, the syndicate and various personality conflicts among the various bands. Although it never extended beyond the city’s borders to achieve national success in the way bands from other major metropolitan areas did, the city’s punk community managed to keep the spirit alive.
“You Weren’t There” features a wealth of performance and archival footage, as well as interviews. One of the most fascinating revelations of the doc is the role of the gay community in the scene. La Mere Vipere, Chicago’s premiere punk stomping ground, was originally a gay bar. Gay bar owner Dem Hopkins, whose Rogers Park tavern The Greenleaf also went from gay to punk, is interviewed. Other punk clubs with gay origins included O’Banions and Ann Arkee’s. Seminal punk record store Wax Trax, owned by the late Jim Nash and his life partner Dannie Flesher, gets praised by those interviewed.
In time for the Johnny Mercer centennial, Bruce Ricker’s film is a loving tribute to one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. A Savannah, Ga., native, John Herndon Mercer was born in 1909 to a prominent and philanthropic family and went on to become an Oscar-winning singer, composer and lyricist in a class all his own. His songbook includes such familiar standards as “Hooray for Hollywood,” “That Old Black Magic,” “Satin Doll” and “Moon River.”
Ricker makes excellent use of archival footage. Mercer was a singer as well as a songwriter, and the performance footage of him provides an essential perspective on the man.
The film also contains interviews with musicians, composers and journalists, including Michael Feinstein, Margaret Whiting, Tony Bennett, John Williams, Leonard Maltin, Julie Andrews, Cleo Laine, Johnny Mandel and Andre Previn.
For the most part, this doc is an affectionate homage to Mercer.
There are several notable musical soundtracks on the shelves. “My Fair Lady,” George Cukor’s movie adaptation of the Lerner and Loewe musical starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, is one example. The DVD includes features such as audio commentary, a vintage featurette and alternate Hepburn vocals. The Blu-Ray edition of Rob Reiner’s mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap,” starring Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean, includes more than an hour of deleted scenes and outtakes.