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ROUGH CUT (punk film)

In 2005 film makers HASAN SHAH and DOM SHAW spoke to SIMON McKAY about their documentary film Rough Cut & Ready Dubbed that recorded the post-punk period (1978 - 1981).

Rough Cut & Ready Dubbed, film, poster, punk, post-punk, London, 1978

Rough Cut and Ready Dubbed is a one hour movie that documents the post punk period of 1978-81. It was made by a group of teenagers who initially financed it with their modest pay packets. They hustled and harried for access to bands despite having very little credibility to bargain with. Typically they were blocked with the question, "Is it for the BBC or ITV?" They would always respond vaguely. They were aspiring film makers who knew that at the very least they were making a show reel but beyond that they didn't really know what it was for. It was only when they put it all together that they realised the value of what they had. They had a film that could be seen as a wake for punk.  It captures some of the surviving first generation punk bands past their prime.  It also shows some of the emerging music Oi!, Mod and Ska.

Dave Fergusson, Portobello Road, Rough Cut & Ready Dubbed, film, poster, punk, post-punk, London, 1978
DAVE FERGUSSON - Portobello Road

For me, the real value wasn't the coverage of the bands but the freezing in time of the young fans: the punks and skins hanging around their turf. The directors Hasan and Dom explained to me that there were regular haunts. A Saturday would be spent outside Rough Trade Records in Portobello and Sundays outside Last Resort on Petticoat Lane - the latter being the place for skinheads to get their clobber. It is one of the Portobello 'street punks', Dave Fergusson, who appears on the cover of the new DVD release of the film. He was one of the teenagers interviewed about their views on music and the scene. The manner of his response was unguarded and in that respect typical of the interviews. I was most curious about what it was about the filmmakers and their interviewing that elicited such open responses. When asked Dave couldn't remember much detail, which says something about how low key it must have seemed at the time: "[The film makers] were pretty normal looking and only a couple of years older than me."

Punk Couple, Portobello Road, Rough Cut & Ready Dubbed, punk, post-punk, London, 1978
PUNK COUPLE - Portobello Road
(from Rough Cut & Ready Dubbed)

Dom described how the filmmakers became part of the weekend routine, always hanging around with their cameras. They got to know the regulars, which wasn't hard as they actually went to school with some of them and others lived in their street. Filming tended to be good-natured and their camera equipment was far too low tech to be intimidating.  Violence is a theme that runs throughout the film but there is never any hostility directed towards the interviewers. The subjects respond warmly, in a very teenage way of course: they talk briefly about what they do like and then go into great detail about what they don't like!

Mohawk Skyline, Punk, Stiff Little Fingers, Rough Cut & Ready Dubbed, film, poster, punk, post-punk, London, 1978
(while Stiff Little Fingers are onstage)

In some ways the film is a little sad.  A lot of the punks seemed strictly second generation and the force for change, along with any theology, seemed to be lost. The fans now adopted a uniform look of spiky hair and leather jackets. The film captures the element of senseless violence and the growing factions that dominated the times. Battle lines were drawn between the main cults of punk, skinhead and mod. The footage of Stiff Little Fingers performing in Brockwell Park, Brixton in 1979 showed that mayhem was in the air. Hasan remembers being on stage with his camera as the crowd clambered up. At the bellowing insistence of the band's singer, Jake Burns, he beat a hasty retreat and filmed the rest of the stage invasion from a safe distance. He captured the ensuing scenes of tribal insanity. The most dramatic was a Mohicaned youth in bondage trousers and leather jacket silhouetted against the sky. He is shown high above the general melee bouncing defiantly on his delicate perch (the ropes supporting the stage canopy!) seemingly oblivious to the fact that the most destruction he was likely to cause would be to his own skinny frame. It's a moment of insane bravado that speaks volumes of the mood of destruction and the feeling of impending doom. The show had been hijacked. Tough luck if you came along wanting to see the bands perform. This was a youth movement that was fractured, had turned on itself and was ultimately doomed.

John Peel Interview, Radio 1, Rough Cut & Ready Dubbed, film, poster, punk, post-punk, London, 1978
JOHN PEEL INTERVIEW (from Rough Cut & Ready Dubbed)

In 1982, the film was released to a limited cinema distribution. In the mid 80s, it quietly crept onto the VHS market. However, with the passage of time, it seems more important than ever and merits the bigger DVD push that it is receiving. It captures an atmosphere and the feeling, not always positive, of an era that has now passed. It takes on a new status as it becomes a time capsule left for a new generation to discover and for those that were there, the opportunity to revisit it.

Amongst the DVD extras is fascinating and amusing present day footage, Rough Cut Revisited, showing some of the original participants being interviewed again.


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