Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Margaret Mead ’15: East Punk Memories

Anarchy was all very well for the UK, but not for the Captive Nations of the Warsaw Pact. Of course, that only made Hungary’s early 1980s underground punk movement embrace the music and its nihilistic ethos with ever greater fervor. Having secretly documented them in their prime on Super 8, Lucile Chaufour returned three decades later to see how angry and rebellious they still were in East Punk Memories (clip here), which screens during the 2015 Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History.

The Communist authorities did not like punk—and the feeling was mutual. Homegrown Hungarian punk bands verbally smashed the state every night with politically charged lyrics, such as: “you’re just a street kid, you’ll never be party secretary” and “Communist drug, no seduction needed.” You sort of need to hear them in the original Hungarian for the full effect.

Several of the survivors of the Hungarian punk scene speak without nostalgia for the frequent feeling they experienced during the Socialist era that they were being followed (which they often were). Nobody is ready to shed a tear for Communism, but many are pointedly disappointed with the austerity and rising nationalism that followed. One former punk probably speaks for them all when he tells Chaufour he would not want to relive the Soviet years or the current era.

Yet, indirectly but unmistakably, Chaufour and several interview subjects hint that the punk movement might be partially responsible for the current state of things. It seems a legit skinhead faction eventually split off from the Hungarian punk scene, apparently reading too much into Sid Vicious’s swastika. You have to wonder if the current public discourse would be better if they had focused more on the black flag.

Perhaps, it is also telling that nearly every former punker is holding a beer in their “after” interviews. That is the Eastern Europe I know and love. Introspection and candor are also healthy, so maybe the former punkers are ready to help Hungary take the next step. The depth of their insights is somewhat inconsistent, but it is still an intriguing and appropriately grungy film. Recommended for Cold War punkers, the fifty-one minute East Punk Memories screens this Friday night (10/23), as part of the AMNH’s Margaret Mead Film Festival.