We Jam Econo: (Plexifilm, 6.27.2006)
The Story of the Minutemen
While the punk movement was an anarchic, anti-establishment declaration of individuality, it soon became populated by plenty of people who simply wanted to be a part of something, whether it be Sting and the Police or Stevo and Heroin Bob from SLC Punk! On the other hand, you have the Minutemen, who weren't especially interested in looking or even sounding like most other punk bands and who took punk's principles of stripped-down production and political content to their staccato extreme. For a while, the Clash had the title of the only band that matters, but the San Pedro trio soon elbowed next to them with their vitriolic lyrics and fusion of punk, funk, jazz and rock until the tragic death of frontman D. Boon in December, 1985.
Tim Irwin's We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen mirrors the band's scattershot, minimalist approach, erratically bouncing between an archival Bard College interview with the band, interviews with the surviving members (and the likes of Thurston Moore, Flea, and Lee Renaldo), and exposed nerve performances from the trio's heyday. In other words, the Minutemen aren't given the glossy, high tech treatment that the Sex Pistols received in Julien Temple's docs but instead get a gritty, low rent vibe that suits them and their story, which the doc succinctly and emotionally encapsulates. That vibe is summed-up by the fact that a significant portion of the doc has bassist Mike Watt recounting the good ol' days while driving around in his van with a boom mic evident at the top of the frame.
Some have claimed that We Jam Econo waxes a bit too rhapsodic about the Minutemen, with nary a word of criticism, but the doc merely seems to encapsulate the point that the men were universally loved by their peers with the trio's double album "Double Nickels on the Dime" considered one of punk's seminal albums (I have it as punk's salutatorian behind "London Calling"). Conversely, the Minutemen never made much of a commercial impact (they're best known for the theme song to MTV's Jackass) and their cacophonous, free verse approach is just as likely to inspire repulsion as devotion. If you're a Minutemen neophyte, I'd suggest listening to some snippets on Amazon before renting or buying.
If you're a fan, though, this is simply a must buy based on a treasure trove of extras. Disc one contains the 90-minute film, 19 deleted scenes -- which serve as captivating liner notes -- the uncut, near hour-long Bard College interview, and three bargain basement music videos, including "This Ain't No Picnic," which splices the band into an old military training video with Ronald Reagan appropriately shooting at them.
Disc two contains 62 songs by the trio from three performances: a 1980 show with the group cutting their punk teeth, a 1984 D.C. show where they're at the height of their powers, and a mind-blowing acoustic performance on a cable access show. There's also a cool, 16 page booklet that has everything from photos of the band to original flyers to their shows. The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. -- Colin Miller