Wes Orshoski’s latest documentary, THE DAMNED: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead, has just come out on DVD/Blu-ray – finally allowing über fans like me to get a look at it beyond the compelling trailer that’s been out for over a year. (You can view that below.) First seen at various film festivals and even in some theaters in the larger bergs, the documentary details the rise, fall, rise and plateau that The Damned has been through since they first formed in the mid 1970s. Unlike other bands in UK punk’s first graduating class, these guys weren’t fronted by a headline-grabbing, snot-nosed git, didn’t blow up in the press, weren’t managed by an egotistical svengali, and somehow missed the boats promising stardom, money, infamy or anything like it. What The Damned did do is legendary: they were the first punk band to put out a record, the first to tour the USA, and one of only a few that are still playing today. They were also one of the very few bands that actually looked like they were having fun playing their music, playing the press, or just generally sticking it to whoever needed sticking to.
Orshoski filmed the band for three years, with apparent carte blanche to document anything going on. Along with current interviews of the original band members (Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible, Brian James and Rat Scabies), there are appearances by most of the rest of The Damned’s roster (though for some reason Patricia Morrison is missing), as well as colleagues from the UK scene like Mick Jones (The Clash), Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols), Chrissie Hynde, Steve Diggle (Buzzcocks), Lemmy (subject of Orshoski’s other great documentary) and Don Letts (DJ, filmmaker), and modern scenesters and US punkers like Dexter Holland (The Offspring), Jack Grisham (TSOL), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Jesse Hughes (Eagles of Death Metal) and more. The band didn’t always get along (really?) and to this day there are rifts in their friendships. Saddening, but not unexpected. Combining his own enlightening interview footage with archival footage from around the world, Orshoski has put together a highly watchable documentary.
The characters that make up The Damned, both past and present, are to the fore in Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead. You get a great sense of the enigma that is Vanian, the cutup clown that is Sensible, the real live punk that is Scabies, et al. You also see and hear for yourself that the reason The Damned never “made it” is because they steadfastly held to their belief that punk was about doing things your own way, regardless of what the press, the record label, or even Malcolm effing McLaren wanted them to do. So The Damned are rarely mentioned in the corporate/network/big business “celebrations” of punk… so what?! They did what they wanted to do, didn’t suck up to the press or major record labels or do anything just to get publicity, just to get a big paycheck, or just to impress whoever it was that needed impressing. And that is what impresses me. Sticking to your guns sometimes means that you don’t get to partake in the bounty of riches that others do, and that, unfortunately for The Damned, is the breaks. All of this makes for a story that is compelling even if you don’t give a, errrr, damn about them.
The film, which premiered at SXSW in 2015, is now available (at least in the US) as a combo Blu-ray/DVD pack that gives you the movie and a handful of extras that didn’t make the final cut. I’ve read interviews with Orshoski where he indicated there were tons of extra footage, so I’m surprised that there really isn’t that much included here. (I’m saying this without having access to playing the Blu-ray in the pack, so there may be more on that disc than on the DVD.) Yet, considering the film showed only once where I was living when it did play my town and likely only once (if at all) in your area, you can now see it for yourself. I’m frankly glad they aren’t dead, and you may end up feeling the same way.
4/5 (Cleopatra/MVD Visual)