Monday, June 18, 2012

Passion in the Pit as THE PUNK SYNDROME comes to Silverdocs


We often hear talk of dysfunction amongst rock bands.  Bickering occurs and over what – having too much money? Not getting as much of the spotlight or money as one’s bandmates?  In the case of Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day, we have a band that we can truly say is dealing with dysfunction – all four of this Finnish punk band’s members have been clinically diagnosed with mental disabilities.  Yet amazingly and inspiringly, and unlike the collapsed Oasis, they have managed to keep it together and make powerful, tuneful rock music with no signs of letting up.

THE PUNK SYNDROME is a quick paced, eye opening documentary that introduces us to this enigmatically named band.  It focuses on the music, giving us plenty of well shot footage of raw live performances and the catharsis it stirs among its audiences.  Directors J-P Passi and Jukka Kärkkäinen chose not to give an account of the band’s history. Rather, we are given highly energetic look at their everyday lives and their surprisingly strong live performances in and around their native Finland, as well as on a tour of Europe.

To briefly introduce the band, there is Sami Helle on bass, Kari providing vocals, Pertti  on guitar, and behind the drum kit, Tomi.  They make simple, poppy 3 chord punk with vocals of the Norweigan “cookie monster” variety, commonly associated with death and black metal bands from the region. Their lyrics are frank and deal with matters that range from their frustration with aspects of their life being controlled by institutions, to mundane aspects of everyday life.  There is much mention of coffee.

Interesting details about Finnish culture bubble to the surface as a portrait of the band's unique situation is revealed.  Without making a big fuss over it, the film shows how supportive key people in the band member’s lives are, including  staff at the homes, family members, and Kalle, whose exact role is difficult to determine, but seems to fall somewhere between licensed caregiver and band manager.  His patient and persistent manner in dealing with the band, especially Pertti, make him one of the story’s most important unglamorous heroes.

Glimpses into the band’s creative process include imperfect practice sessions and a lyric writing session between Pertti and Kari.  These are nicely balanced by aspects of the band members’ lives outside of the music.  There is Sami Helle’s pursuit of athletic competition and interest in politics, Kari‘s increasingly serious relationship with his girlfriend, and Tomi’s anxiousness as he is faced with the possibility of moving out of his parents’ home and into an assisted living home.

Wisely, Possi and Kärkkäinen refrain from naming or detailing their diagnoses.  We learn of their symptoms by watching them interact with each other and those around them without getting bogged down by clinical talk.  And of symptoms, there are plenty.  Compulsive outbursts, uncontrollable physical mannerisms, and speech disorders are constant factors in the guys’ lives.  

Pertti Playing 1

The most complex and also most emotionally gripping case is Pertti’s.  The oldest member of the band, he is sometimes seen obsessively listing threats of physical harm aimed at both his bandmates and himself.  A few scenes later, he is bestowing poetic words of kindness and sharing wisdom from his years of experience with those around him.  Other times, he is appears to be afflicted by physical tics, speaking of imagined creatures that would manifest in other band member’s clothing. All the while, the audience sees him as the principle songwriter of the band, the one whom the band’s existence may well be most dependent on.

While there are awkwardly humorous moments that show things like arguments within the band or lapses in judgment, the film does not ever portray them mockingly, nor does it want us to take pity on them.  There is an upbeat progression of events that finds their experiences increasing in wonderment and live performances that keep getting better and better.  There are some amazing gifts for the audience in the form of surprising moments, ones which you wouldn’t want to have unwrapped until you are there in the scene watching the movie.
THE PUNK SYNDROME unflinchingly shows us some very difficult realities, without giving up a sense of fun.  It is also a great movie about music, with uplifting performances that will stick with you for a great while after seeing the film and likely send you running out to hear more of the band's output.

The Punk Syndrome will be screened at the AFI Silverdocs festival in Silver Spring, MD, on Tuesday June 19 and Wednesday June 20.  An interview with the directors of the documentary and the members of the band will appear right here in the days to come.

Me on twitter = @mondocurry

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