Positive Force: A Review in RazorCake

Positive Force: More Than a Witness: 30 Years of Punk Politics in Action

By Lisa Weiss
March 19th, 2015

The DC punk scene is probably the best documented in the world. There’s Banned in DC, a photo book that came out at the end of the ‘80s and Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation’s Capital, a thick tome chronicling DC-area non-mainstream rock. Recently, Dave Grohl (he played drums in Scream) took viewers down the Sonic Highway through the District for a chat with Don Zientara, the producer of most of the Dischord catalog. As of this writing, I am praying to the Madonna of Dupont Circle that the Oakland screening of Salad Days: The DC Punk Revolution will not sell out. Do we really need another movie where we watch Fugazi and listen to Ian MacKaye talk about Fugazi?

The answer is yes. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, if you wanted to see Fugazi and many other great bands such as Jawbox, Nation Of Ulysses, Beefeater and Fire Party—and Basque and European politico-punk bands such as Negu Gorriak and Chumbawamba—in DC, it was most often at a show put on by Positive Force. All of the shows benefitted one local organization or another, were all-ages, and five dollars. They were held in church basements in neighborhoods where condos now command high rents but then were places where tenants were organizing and Positive Force was supporting their efforts.

This film chronicles the efforts of this group through the shows they put on, the meetings they held in their community house, and the work they tried to do to affect change.It’s one thing to yell, “Fuck the system.” It’s quite another to work to keep people from getting fucked by the system. PF gave the DC scene a character not found in other places. That character, to some—myself included—felt a little puritanical at times. I lived in DC during the part of the time covered in the film, went to a couple of meetings and helped out with a couple of shows, and attended many more. It was a real culture shock when I moved to San Diego and a “benefit” show was to raise money for the drummer’s paternity test. But it was nice to drink alcohol and listen to live punk rock at the same time.

Any group of committed, idealistic, young (or young at heart) folks are bound to have disagreements, right? Well, not according to this movie. There are a couple of times where breaks in ranks are briefly mentioned, but every good documentary has a plot, and part of that plot is conflict. Instead of glossing over disagreements, it might have been more interesting to see how these folks worked through their differences.

This film is great for going beyond the music and showing that there is more to punk rock than the elements of clothing and fast music that became part of its commercialization in the early ‘90s, but, in the end, it comes off as a little too one-sided and self-congratulatory.

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