Wake Up Punk: how anarchy went up in smoke

Documentary exlplores how movement was leaped on for commodification

Thursday, 5th May — By Dan Carrier

Wake up punk

Directed by Nigel Askew
Certificate: 12a

THE idea of taking a bunch of stuff your parents left you and torching the lot is the stepping off point for this fascinating consideration of art, culture, memory, punk and commodification.

Wake Up Punk tells the story of Joe Corre, the son of punk innovators Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren. Joe decided to mark the 40th anniversary of the movement’s birth – and in reaction to the guff spouted about it – to build a giant bonfire of his parents’ work.

Apparently worth over £5m, it went up in flames and created a discussion about what punk stood for, its relevance today, and how an apparently anarchistic movement was immediately leaped on by a system that recognises, with brutal efficiency, the cash cow of youth culture.

“When I was a young kid my parents were not considered iconic, they were considered anti-establishment, some thought they were scum, others thought they were geniuses,” he recalls.

“It wasn’t like it is now, my muvver’s a national treasure.”

And this status has sparked a consideration of what punk represents. We are asked whether the fact old T-shirts, records and art work is now seen as “collectable” and hankered after by the very people the punk movement wanted to destroy is an anachronism. Joe and his brother Ben think so.

Add to this a splendid array of angry older people spouting forth, Wake Up Punk is thoroughly entertaining, as well as being philosophically interesting.

Is it vandalism to set alight the first ever acetate recording of God Save The Queen? Does it matter, as an object, or is the fact someone might covet it so fundamentally opposite to the spirit of punk that its better to destroy it?

Westwood offers insights into such questions, the background of the movement and her role in it. “We were rebels,” she says. “I was so disgusted by attacks on human rights, Vietnam. I wanted to change the world. I wanted anarchy.”

This entertaining documentary reveals much. We learn McLaren thought himself to be a Fagin-like figure, someone “who wanted to cause maximum chaos,” adds fellow punk Eddie Tudor Pole. “He was like a kid who wanted to take a tin of beans from the bottom of a supermarket display.”

We also learn you can buy afternoon tea at a posh West End hotel on an Adam Ant cake stand, that Virgin using the Sex Pistols on a credit card annoys Westwood, and owning an artefact from the 1970s isn’t punk, but protesting about the climate disaster is.

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