D.O.A.: A Right of Passage (Special Edition)

| January 1, 2018

“If you care, you’ll get let down,” laments a heartbroken Texas punk lying in the dirt, tossed aside like trash by a fellow Texan simply for being different, for being “other.” You could point to a number of statements about the nature of the punk scene made by interviewees in the 1981 documentary D.O.A.: A Right of Passage, but to me this singular sentence perfectly encapsulates the thought process that sends a person headlong into the punk lifestyle. I can attest to this personally, in fact, because once upon a time I was a punk myself, told by adults from close relations to guidance counselors my entire middle and high school career that I’d never amount to anything after I chose to pursue a career as an artist. So I rebelled and very nearly self-destructed.

D.O.A. sets out to follow The Sex Pistols on their infamous tour of the southern United States in 1978, but becomes something so much more: a portrait of youths disenfranchised and chastised by their elders for not having accomplished something as great as they did in winning World War II. (As if World Wars are something we should all hope to fight in!) And so D.O.A. serves as both a window into what the punk scene looked like at its peak and soapbox for the punks to air their grievances. The film isn’t one-sided in its approach though. It allows those staunchly anti-punk to make themselves heard too, but that only makes the film more upsetting as they can discuss the punks as nothing more than subhuman dreck.

The film left me positively hurting, aching to my core. It shows an English politician talking about the youth of his country like a pest problem in need of fumigation, and then turns its sights to these very youths, some of whom actually work full-time hours plus overtime and still don’t make enough money to get by. Like anyone would willingly choose to be underpaid and underprivileged!

To those who never felt such rejection or alienation in their lives, D.O.A. may appear to be little more than an exploration of garbage human beings in pants with too many zippers. But that’s exactly the kind of mentality that leads to such movements spawning in the first place. These are people who were written off before they’d had a chance to prove themselves on their own terms. They were held up to impossible standards and found lacking before they’d even become adults, told they were worthless and then blamed for their own abuse. Disenfranchised and disillusioned, practically forced into poverty and scolded by the wealthy for not being wealthy themselves.

If this disgusting cycle sounds familiar to you at all, it’s because we’re seeing the same attitudes directed toward young Millennials right now. They’re forced into crippling debt by corporatization, stripped of job opportunities by corporate outsourcing, and told they’re lazy and worthless when they can’t pull themselves out of the impossibly deep holes the previous generations and corporations dug for them. It’s natural and inevitable that such disenfranchisement will be met with scorn and that these people will refuse to be party to their own subjugation. Acquiesce or explode. Self-destruct like the all-too-soon-to-be-deceased Sid Vicious, seen in D.O.A. wasted and passing out mid-interview in bed alongside the imminently doomed Nancy Spungen—both of whom would be dead before the film was even finished.

Is this what D.O.A.’s about though? For me it is, because it took me places I hadn’t been mentally in over a decade, and made me fear that my students are going through the very same thing themselves. And it deeply saddened me. It’s all there if you open yourself up to the plight of the youth depicted in D.O.A. Because this intergenerational conflict has happened before, is happening again, and will continue to happen if our species persists. It needs to be seen, heard and understood. Thus, there has perhaps never then been a better time for D.O.A. to debut on DVD and Blu-ray, which is how I’ve come to see the film some 18 years after it no doubt would have ruined my life, had I seen it during my own punk phase.

Sure, D.O.A. is still very much a film about the punk scene and punk music, and god damn is the music fantastic, featuring performances from the likes of The Sex Pistols, Generation X with Billy Idol, the Dead Boys, the X-Ray Spex, and Sham 69 among others, with additional music from The Clash and Iggy Pop. But there’s so much more to this film than loud, angry music, just as there’s so much more to a punk than weird clothes and a surly disposition. All you have to do is listen!

You can check out D.O.A.: A Right of Passage yourself in MVD Entertainment Group’s Blu-ray + DVD Special Edition release, which is again the first time it’s being released on disc. It’s also, as it happens, the debut release in MVD’s Rewind Collection to be followed up with Attack of the Killer Tomatoes in January 2018.

Among the special features on this release is Dead on Arrival: The Punk Documentary that Almost Never Was, an incredible, one hour and fifty-five minute documentary about the making of D.O.A. that also reflects on the origins of punk in general. Dead on Arrival is an absolutely indispensable supplement to the film proper, revealing just how unbelievably lucky we are to have any footage of The Sex Pistols’ tour, all of which was captured guerilla-style by director Lech Kowalski and crew, who had to trick their way into every venue on the tour!

Additionally, the MVD release includes a Sex Pistols photo gallery and the original theatrical trailer, along with a 12 page booklet with liner notes written by John Holmstrom, founding editor of PUNK Magazine; a 2-sided poster; and a Limited Edition Retro ‘Video Store Style’ Slipcover with the first pressing only.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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