Film review: Wake Up Punk

This fascinating documentary explores both the history of punk and what it means to be punk now

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Is punk dead? That’s one of the central questions of the documentary Wake Up Punk (6 May, Square Chapel Arts Centre, Halifax and other dates and venues), which focuses on Joe Corré, son of Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, and his ambition to burn an estimated £5m worth of rare punk memorabilia in protest against the commodification of the cultural movement his parents helped create. The fact that some of the most famous imagery from the punk era was used on a credit card is used to kickstart the film, and the preparations for, and discussions about, Corré’s plan forms the skeleton around which the rest of the film is hung. 

Director Nigel Askew fuses documentary and magical realism, in the form of some curious skits involving workhouse children discussing capitalism and planning to overthrow their oppressors, to explore the decline of the punk movement brought about because of its success and subsequent adoption into the cultural mainstream. Casual, intimate conversations between Westwood and her two sons Ben and Joe, as they candidly discuss their relationships with McLaren and stories from the punk era, are some of the highlights of the film. The angry debate captured at a launch event of a punk exhibition where Corré and other panellists talk about his inflammatory plan, and where Corré lambasts fellow panellist Viv Goldman for being a “punk professor” at NY University, is also well worth a watch.

Most pertinent of all is the link the film makes to today’s climate change activism – about which both Westwood and Corré are passionate. Today’s true anarchists, Westwood suggests, are not the activists themselves looking to save the planet from imminent climate catastrophe, but the law-breaking politicians who are putting their own self-interests above the needs of the people they are meant to serve and protect. 

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