Before Dave Grohl briefly broached the subject on his HBO documentary series Sonic Highways, the history of Chicago punk rock was chronicled in You Weren’t There, Joe Losurdo and Christina Tillman’s exhaustive two-hour documentary about the city’s punk scene between 1977 and 1984, featuring interviews with the likes of Steve Albini, Santiago Durango, and John Kezdy. Losurdo’s follow-up film Sacrificial Youth is yet another affectionate look at the local scene, but it’s a wildly different take, an ultra-low-budget punk-rock musical that takes Jesus Christ Superstar and turns it into a story about a teenaged DIY lifer whose commitment to the cause would make Ian MacKaye blush, filled with original songs inspired by the likes of Suicidal Tendencies and Black Flag.
The film is a 180-degree turn from You Weren’t There, both formally and stylistically, but at its core, it serves the same basic function. As Losurdo explained in an interview with the old A.V. Club Chicago, the film was designed as a sort of home movie. The director enlisted local punk scenesters to help out with production, either by acting in the film, helping with the production, or contributing to the soundtrack (many of the participants were already interviewed for You Weren’t There). Sacrificial Youth is a rough, rowdy, unashamedly flawed little masterpiece overrun with enthusiasm and attitude; you can see it at Township’s screening on Saturday at 9:30 PM for the film’s official DVD release party.
The movie is imperfect, to be sure—the acting is rough, the story makes zero sense, the editing is choppy—but there’s no lack of creativity or genius here. And besides, imperfection is sort of the point. Artistic merit abounds as Losurdo smuggles elements of science fiction, B-grade horror, and melodrama into the film’s musical framework, giving Sacrificial Youth an intertextual, self-reflexive intrigue. And, as much as the film venerates punk-rock culture and ethics, it incisively satirizes those who take the DIY idea a bit too seriously. But Sacrificial Youth‘s greatest virtue is its underlying commentary on subcultures and their viability in the Internet age. Losurdo and his friends are among the old dogs of Chicago punks, but the film is all about the youth of today, and you get the sense that much of Sacrificial Youth is a sort of plea to stay true to local punk’s roots. That said, this isn’t an ageist film—Losurdo isn’t on his theoretical porch screaming at the new generation to get off his lawn. Sacrificial Youth is a testament to the relevancy and vibrancy of the old-school punk-rock ethos, at least for those still willing to follow it.
After this weekend’s screening, members of Life Sentence, Rights of the Accused, Tutu & the Pirates, and other surprise guests are performing the soundtrack in its entirety, plus Losurdo himself is on hand for a little DJ session with Rights of the Accused/Regress drummer Anthony Illarde. Tickets are $10.