The Damned - Don't You Wish That We Were Dead
The film opens with interviews of random punters at one of the biggest US alternative rock festivals, the Punk Rock Bowling Festival in Las Vegas. They are more of less asked the same question... "Have you heard of the Damned?". At least half answer "No" and even those who show a modicum of recognition counter by saying they don't know any of their individual tracks.
In a way this sums up the group's legacy. Given that they released the first UK punk single, had the first UK punk album, were the first UK punk band to tour America and arguably are the forefathers of Goth, their mark on the musical landscape is significantly less than those other original punks the Sex Pistols and Clash. This film sets out, partly at least, to address this situation. However, as the director Wes Orshoski said on the night I saw it, at times he was making the film despite the actions of the band members, not with their active help.
Concentrating on the original line of Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible, Brian James and Rat Scabies, it uses archive footage and taking heads to tell of the countless internal struggles, break up, reformations and on going recriminations of a band who celebrate their 40th birthday next year.
Highlights include the grainy footage of their early tour of west coast USA where their anti social behaviour (and drug taking) was at its worst. Venues trashed and audiences being insulted makes for very entertaining watching, but surely did little to enhance their fledgling career. Matters are covered in chronological order with the highs and (many) lows charted in depth, but always liberally interspersed with clips (old and new) of the band in action.
Comedy is never far below the surface and Captain Sensible recalls the problem of the unflushable turd he encountered in his first job as toilet cleaner in a Croydon theatre. Safe to say, after hearing his remedy, I will never use cutlery from a staff canteen again! However, there are definite moments of pathos with ex-drummer Scabies shedding tears as he remembers one of the many band break ups. Additionally the clear distain that Vanian and Sensible (in particular) have for their former stickman is plain, and eloquently explained by both sides. Like everything else in the music business, unfortunately, their differences come down primarily to money.
Fundamentally, the main problems with rockumentaries is that if you are ambivalent about the band, then the chances are you won't want to see the film. However, I think there is enough here to keep most music fans interested in the anarchic, chaotic, self destructive and down right funny career of The Damned that continues on unabated even today.