1991: The Year Punk Broke (1992)

99 mins | Documentary, Performance | 20 November 1992

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HISTORY

The documentary begins with a title card that states: “Filmed entirely in Europe August 19 to September 1, 1991,” and another which specifies the tour dates: “Cork, Ireland – 8.20; Dublin, Ireland – 8.21; Reading, England – 8.23; Köln, Germany – 8.24; Hasselt, Belgium – 8.25; Bremen, Germany – 8.27; Halle, Germany – 8.28; Stuttgart, Germany – 8.29; Nuremberg, Germany – 8.30; Rotterdam, Holland – 9.1.” Sonic Youth Archives note that shows took place at the following venues: Sir Henry’s nightclub (Cork, Ireland); Top Hat (Dublin, Ireland); Reading Festival (Berkshire, England); Monster of Spex (Köln, Germany); Pukkelpop Festival (Hasselt, Belgium); Aladin (Bremen, Germany); Easy Schorre (Halle, Germany); Longhorn (Stuttgart, Germany); Serenadenhof (Nuremburg, Germany); and Doelen (Rotterdam, Holland).
       In the opening credits, Nirvana’s bass player, Krist Novoselic, is listed as "Chris" Novoselic, and the band's soundman, Craig Montgomery, is listed in the cast as “Bob” Montgomery. A 10 Aug 2011 Village Voice interview with Gumball frontman Dan Fleming stated his bandmate, Jay Spiegel, was also known as "The Rummager." Spiegel was credited as such in the opening credits. Sonic Youth tour manager Peter Van der Velde is listed as Peter "Vandervelde" in the end credits. Dinosaur Jr. drummer "Murph'>Murph" is a pseudonym for Emmett Jefferson "Patrick" Murphy III. While opening credits state that David Travis was "assistant engineer/audio engineer," end credits list him as "assistant editor," as well as "audio engineer/video toaster." Filmmaker Dave Markey is also credited as "David" Markey. End credits were recorded from the 2011 DVD release and may not reflect what appeared onscreen for the documentary's 1992 theatrical opening.
       The documentary is dedicated: "In memory ... More Less

The documentary begins with a title card that states: “Filmed entirely in Europe August 19 to September 1, 1991,” and another which specifies the tour dates: “Cork, Ireland – 8.20; Dublin, Ireland – 8.21; Reading, England – 8.23; Köln, Germany – 8.24; Hasselt, Belgium – 8.25; Bremen, Germany – 8.27; Halle, Germany – 8.28; Stuttgart, Germany – 8.29; Nuremberg, Germany – 8.30; Rotterdam, Holland – 9.1.” Sonic Youth Archives note that shows took place at the following venues: Sir Henry’s nightclub (Cork, Ireland); Top Hat (Dublin, Ireland); Reading Festival (Berkshire, England); Monster of Spex (Köln, Germany); Pukkelpop Festival (Hasselt, Belgium); Aladin (Bremen, Germany); Easy Schorre (Halle, Germany); Longhorn (Stuttgart, Germany); Serenadenhof (Nuremburg, Germany); and Doelen (Rotterdam, Holland).
       In the opening credits, Nirvana’s bass player, Krist Novoselic, is listed as "Chris" Novoselic, and the band's soundman, Craig Montgomery, is listed in the cast as “Bob” Montgomery. A 10 Aug 2011 Village Voice interview with Gumball frontman Dan Fleming stated his bandmate, Jay Spiegel, was also known as "The Rummager." Spiegel was credited as such in the opening credits. Sonic Youth tour manager Peter Van der Velde is listed as Peter "Vandervelde" in the end credits. Dinosaur Jr. drummer "Murph'>Murph" is a pseudonym for Emmett Jefferson "Patrick" Murphy III. While opening credits state that David Travis was "assistant engineer/audio engineer," end credits list him as "assistant editor," as well as "audio engineer/video toaster." Filmmaker Dave Markey is also credited as "David" Markey. End credits were recorded from the 2011 DVD release and may not reflect what appeared onscreen for the documentary's 1992 theatrical opening.
       The documentary is dedicated: "In memory of Joe Cole." The young actor, musician, roadie, and boyfriend of Babes in Toyland bass player Michelle Leon was murdered during an armed robbery in Dec 1991.
       As stated in a 25 Aug 2011 Spin article, filmmaker Dave Markey became friends with the New York City experimental rock ‘n’ roll band, Sonic Youth, in the mid-1980s, when the group recorded a version of Alice Cooper’s song “Hallowed Be My Name” for the soundtrack of Markey’s low-budget, Super 8 film, Lovedolls Superstar (1986). The picture was a sequel to Markey’s 1984 independent feature, Desperate Teenage Lovedolls. Although neither movie had a theatrical release at the time, they were regarded as cult classics for their use of “punk” and “post-punk” bands, including Sonic Youth, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and Meat Puppets. The groups featured in Markey’s movies were precursors for the eminent “grunge” music genre of the early 1990s, heralded by the band Nirvana and its iconoclastic frontman, Kurt Cobain, who died in 1994.
       After working with Sonic Youth on Lovedolls Superstar, Markey directed two music videos for Goo (1990), the band’s first album on David Geffen’s new record label, The David Geffen Company (DGC). The shift to a major label launched Sonic Youth into a higher echelon of rock musicians, and DGC financed an international tour to promote Goo in 1991. Markey and Sonic Youth had vague plans to collaborate on a “longer project” than music videos, and in Aug 1991, the band telephoned him two weeks before the start of their European tour, asking him “to come and shoot stuff.”
       On his way to meet Sonic Youth in London, England, Markey shared an airplane flight with the band Nirvana, who had also recently been signed to DGC with the encouragement of Sonic Youth’s singer-bass player, Kim Gordon. Nirvana’s first album on DGC, Nevermind, was set to be released after the tour in late-Sep 1991, with the single “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hitting the airways at an earlier date to spark sales for the LP. Although the song, as well as the album, would propel Nirvana into mass international celebrity, the band was fairly unknown at the start of the Sonic Youth tour. Markey told Spin that Nirvana had just completed the video shoot for “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in the early hours of the morning before their mutual flight to London. The young men “drank beers and screwdrivers” the entire journey, and Markey began filming the documentary on his Super 8 camera as soon as they landed.
       According to a 23 Sep 2011 NYT article, the title of the documentary came about soon after Markey arrived in England and joined up with Sonic Youth at a hotel room in Ireland. While watching Music Television (MTV), the friends saw the 1980s popular “heavy metal” band, Mötley Crüe, perform a version of the punk song “Anarchy In The U.K” by the Sex Pistols to a stadium crowd in England. Noting that underground music had been taken over by the mainstream, Markey declared: “1991 is the year punk broke.” The expression caught on, and became a catch phrase on the tour. In the documentary, Kim Gordon announces the motto to the crowd before starting a song, and her then-husband and Sonic Youth collaborator, Thurston Moore, discusses its meaning in a later part of the movie.
       Still, the notion of self-marginalized “independent” bands breaking through to conventional audiences was as yet unheard of. Markey told the NYT that most of the bands on the tour were playing to the biggest crowds in their careers, and no one expected that Nirvana would explode in popularity within a few months. In Aug 1991, Kurt Cobain’s soon-to-be persona as a deeply troubled drug addict had not taken hold. The film documents him pre-fame, full of smiles, and “mugging for the camera with the energy of a child.”
       While the bands toured Europe, DGC used the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” video to market Nirvana, and crowds continued to grow in anticipation of the group’s hit single. Sonic Youth, which headlined the tour and was more popular than Nirvana at the time, reportedly took the band “under their wing” and made sure they had slots at every show.
       During that time, Truth or Dare (1991, see entry), a documentary about pop star celebrity Madonna’s “Blond Ambition” tour, was in its third month of theatrical release, and it was a source of parody for the Sonic Youth’s team of bands and crewmembers. Sonic Youth had a standing obsession with Madonna, as evidenced by a brief name change to “Ciccone Youth” in honor of Madonna’s surname for The Whitey Album (1988). Referring to Truth or Dare, Sonic Youth used the working title Tooth or Hair for Markey’s documentary before the title was changed. In addition, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon reenacted a scene from Truth or Dare with Kurt Cobain. In the sequence, Cobain parodied actor Kevin Costner when he met Madonna backstage after a “Blond Ambition” show and said: “You guys were really neat.” While Markey was filming, Cobain went off script and sprayed the room with a bottle of champagne before smashing it against a wall.
       As noted in the NYT article, Markey ended up with nine hours of 8mm film, and edited it in 1992, as Nirvana’s Nevermind was achieving worldwide popularity. Markey was reportedly concerned about exploiting his friends’ success, and selected more footage of the band’s backstage antics than their performances. When Cobain died in 1994, clips from the film were used by television networks to pay tribute to the artist.
       The 2011 DVD release of 1991: The Year Punk Broke was delayed for nearly ten years due to legal issues involving the Cobain Estate. In the interim, Markey produced a forty-minute companion film titled (This is Known As) The Blues Scale, referring to a comment Kurt Cobain made onstage during the tour. The movie, which was intended to be featured on a 2004 DVD edition that was never released due to ongoing lawsuits, included Nirvana performance footage cut from the original documentary. Markey told NYT that he started to believe the DVD would never be released, but a sea change occurred when Sonic Youth started to digitize their archival footage for their thirty-year anniversary as a band, and Universal Records, which had acquired DGC and supported the DVD, was scheduling events to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind. The momentum resulted in newfound efforts to make 1991: The Year Punk Broke available on DVD. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
3 Dec 1992.
---
Los Angeles Times
15 Jan 1993
Calendar, p. 8.
New York Times
20 Nov 1992
Section C, p. 5.
New York Times
23 Sep 2011
p. 15, 27.
Spin
25 Aug 2011.
---
Village Voice
10 Aug 2011.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Sonic Life/We Got Power Films Presents...
A Film by David Markey
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
Addl cine
Addl cine
Addl cine
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SOUND
Sonic Youth live sd by
Nirvana live sd by
Dinosaur Jr. live sd by
Asst eng/Audio eng
VISUAL EFFECTS
Lighting des
Main title des
PRODUCTION MISC
Post prod
Post prod
Bus driver
SOURCES
SONGS
"Schizophrenia," Sonic Youth (Sonic Youth), Sonik Tooth (BMI)
"Negative Creep," Nirvana (Cobain), EMI Virgin Songs, Inc., o/b/o The End of Music and Primary Wave Tunes (BMI)
"Brother James," Sonic Youth (Sonic Youth), Sonik Tooth (BMI)
+
SONGS
"Schizophrenia," Sonic Youth (Sonic Youth), Sonik Tooth (BMI)
"Negative Creep," Nirvana (Cobain), EMI Virgin Songs, Inc., o/b/o The End of Music and Primary Wave Tunes (BMI)
"Brother James," Sonic Youth (Sonic Youth), Sonik Tooth (BMI)
"School," (Cobain), EMI Virgin Songs, Inc., o/b/o The End of Music and Primary Wave Tunes (BMI)
"Teenage Riot," Sonic Youth (Sonic Youth), Sonik Tooth (BMI)
"Freak Scene," Dinosaur Jr. (J Mascis), Spam As The Bread Music (BMI)
"Dustcake Boy," Babes In Toyland (Babes In Toyland), No Dukey (ASCAP), "Dirty Boots," Sonic Youth (Sonic Youth), Sonik Tooth (BMI)
"Endless, Nameless," Nirvana (Cobain/Grohl/Novoselic), EMI Virgin Songs, Inc., o/b/o The End of Music and Primary Wave Tunes (BMI)/M.J. Twelve Music and administered by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. (BMI)/Murky Slough Music (BMI)
"I Love Her All The Time," Sonic Youth (Sonic Youth), Sonik Tooth (BMI)
"Pre," Gumball (Gumball), Sometimes Music/Vermillion Sounds/Rummenetics (BMI)
"The Wagon," (J Mascis), Dinosaur Jr., Spam As The Bread Music (BMI)
"Mote," Sonic Youth (Sonic Youth), Sonik Tooth (BMI)
"Smells Like Teen Spirit," Nirvana (Cobain/Grohl/Novoselic), EMI Virgin Songs, Inc., o/b/o The End of Music and Primary Wave Tunes (BMI)/M.J. Twelve Music and administered by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp. (BMI)/Murky Slough Music (BMI)
"Commando," The Ramones (The Ramones), Warner Chappel Music (ASCAP), "Kool Thing," Sonic Youth (Sonic Youth), Sonik Tooth (BMI)
"Polly," Nirvana (Cobain), EMI Virgin Songs, Inc., o/b/o The End of Music and Primary Wave Tunes (BMI)
"Expressway To Yr Skull," Sonic Youth (Sonic Youth), Sonik Tooth (BMI).
+
PERFORMERS
+
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Tooth or Hair
Release Date:
20 November 1992
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 20 November 1992
Los Angeles opening: 26 February 1993
Production Date:
19 August--1 September 1991
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
99
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In August 1991, the New York City experimental rock ‘n’ roll band Sonic Youth tours European music festivals supported by their selection of up-and-coming acts, including Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., Babes in Toyland, and Gumball. The Ramones are also featured. Performance footage is intercut with scenes of the bands backstage, roaming city streets, and talking to press and fans. ... +


In August 1991, the New York City experimental rock ‘n’ roll band Sonic Youth tours European music festivals supported by their selection of up-and-coming acts, including Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., Babes in Toyland, and Gumball. The Ramones are also featured. Performance footage is intercut with scenes of the bands backstage, roaming city streets, and talking to press and fans. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.