Release Date(s)1981 (December 15, 2017)
Studio(s)High Times/D.O.A. Productions (MVD Visual/MVD Rewind Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B-
- Audio Grade: C+
- Extras Grade: B
Teenage rebellion during the 1970s was often ripe with controversy in many forms, but few were less memorable than the punk rock movement. Capturing this era with part mystique but also honesty is D.O.A.: A Right of Passage. This rough and tumble concert documentary focuses on several areas of the world in which various punk rock bands perform, most notably the Sex Pistols, but it also gets to know the young adults who follow the bands around while leading an unorthodox lifestyle – much to the dismay of their parents, political leaders, and police officers.
A fascinating snapshot of a defiant existence, comparable to many forms of expression found in today’s society (but obviously much more accepted), D.O.A. is also rebellious by its very nature. As the accompanying booklet describes, everybody who had their fingers in it was against it, including record companies, distributors, etc. But for its director, Lech Kowalski, it was a passion project that morphed into a valuable video document, tracing the rise and fall of the Sex Pistols and the punk rock movement in general. It’s a bumpy ride, loaded with poor visual and aural qualities, which almost by accident makes it apt for its subject matter. It gets down and dirty with the real people involved rather than relying on a grouping of talking heads, something that we’ve become so accustomed to. Most of the Sex Pistols’ performances contain burnt-in subtitles that don’t always match up to the picture, if that gives you any indication of the film’s crudeness.
The resulting 16 mm footage from the film’s low-tech shoot by amateur filmmakers yields a quality that is just as unsophisticated as its subject matter, which to my way of thinking, is exactly how it should be. This is no amazing presentation, even on Blu-ray; it’s grainy, full of scratches and damage, and crushed in the blacks department, but yet still results in a top-notch presentation with often high levels of detail and decent saturation. Contrast and brightness levels are also improved from the look of its theatrical trailer. Opticals, mostly the aforementioned subtitles, are infrequent but blend in more naturally than most and don’t often result in a major drop in sharpness. For what it is, this is a crisp presentation that’s rough around the edges, but appropriate. The same goes for the audio, which is an English 2.0 LPCM track with no subtitle options. It’s kind of all over the place, featuring lots of dropouts and dramatic changes in fidelity, partly due to the fact that (as noted on the back cover of this release) some of the audio of the performances had to be replaced with, what my ears perceive to be, more modern mixes which are fuller. Like its video counterpart, it’s aesthetically pleasing and presentable for what it is.
There aren’t an enormous amount of extras to be had for this release, but the main focus is a brand new 2-hour documentary entitled Dead on Arrival: The Punk Documentary That Almost Never Was. This excellent companion piece to the main presentation was directed and produced by Richard Schenkman (The Man from Earth) and features an enormous amount of new interview footage with “PUNK” magazine founder John Holmstrom, music journalist Chris Salewicz, photographer Roberta Bayley, Sex Pistols’ historian Mick O’Shea, former Rich Kid guitarist and Ultravox lead singer Midge Ure, and various film crew members including David King, Mary Killen, and Rufus Standefer. This documentary also includes never-before-seen interview footage of Sex Pistols’ founder Malcolm McLaren. It covers the backstory, development, shooting, and release of the film and its legacy and is well-worth your time. Also included in the extras is an image gallery with 54 stills accompanied by Sex Pistols music; theatrical trailers for the film (with the title listed as D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage), as well as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes; a DVD copy; a double-sided poster with the film’s original artwork on one side and a reproduction of the film’s premiere poster on the other; and a 12-page insert booklet with liner notes by John Holmstrom, as well as various photos of the Sex Pistols.
D.O.A.: A Right of Passage is interesting contextual viewing, if nothing else. Featuring performances by not just the Sex Pistols, but also by the Rich Kids, Generation X, X-Ray Spex, and several others, its a point in time that likely won’t be repeated, but is absorbing to learn about for those who weren’t actually there. One instance of an attempt to interview Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen to no avail as Sid is completely out of it and mostly mumbling his responses gives you a window into a world that would eventually be studied and dramatized. MVD Rewind’s debut Blu-ray release gives this underground classic the proper release that it deserves. This goes without saying but if you’re a punk rock fan at all, D.O.A. should be right up your alley.
- Tim Salmons