Review: 'Suburbia' holds up as a historical record

Posted January 28,2019 - 04:41 PM

I have to admit, I didn't get into punk music until the tail end of the musical revolution. Don't blame my musical tastes, blame my age. I was 13 when The Dead Milkmen's "Beelzebubba," but I was hooked.

I remember forcing my mom to take me and my junior high Pat Gruse to a local record shop (kids, ask your parents) to meet The Dead Milkmen. Again, I was 13 and little did I know what I was getting myself into. While my memories are foggy, I do remember that despite the long lines, the band was great and gave us a bunch of tchotchkes to anoint us into the family of punk.

While often misunderstood, the punk community was and continues to be a caring close-knit community, much akin to a family. In many ways, director Penelope Spheeris tried to capture this feeling in her feature-length dramatic debut Surburbia.

Perhaps best known as the first film to star Flea, Surburbia is actually a poignant look at the youth of a generation lost against the backdrop of the Reagan presidency and the rise of the baby boomers. These forgotten kids have banded together to form their own family, dubbing themselves "The Rejected." They take up residence in a filthy, abandoned house and their new neighbors are none too pleased with these unruly squatters.

While the Shout Select Collector's Edition of Surburbia is taken from a new 4K scan of the original negative, there is still plenty of authenticity in the film. Sure, it looks better than it ever did, but let's face it, there's only so much that can be done to polish this film. But that's sort of the whole point.

The film continues to be raw and unflinching in its portrayal of disenfranchised youth and their struggle to fit into a society that doesn't care. In many ways, these same struggles are being felt by the millennials who are the butt of many jokes from older generations. While millennials have turned to technology and snark to express themselves, the same ethos shared by the punks in Surburbia shines through.

Despite my early predilection for punk music, I didn't see Surburbia for the first time until I was in college - about a decade after it first came out. By then, I enjoyed the film for its expression of authentic punk vibes and performances from some of the genre's pioneers. The powerful message had dissipated by then and as I was in college and part of the very societal infrastructure that the film's protagonists railed against, I almost felt like a poseur for enjoying their music.

As I went back and watched it recently for this review, time and experience have given me a fresh perspective to enjoy the film for both its entertainment value and its message. It's clear that sometimes we get swept up in the moment, but that doesn't mean that we can appreciate the underlying context of the situation.

I have met people that were Jack or Razzle back in the day, but they have embraced the world and their place within it. They aren't stuck in the angsty past, but instead, they have blazed new trails that work within the framework of society while still maintaining their core beliefs. In many ways, this potential for growth is what we have in the millennials currently and something that we need to remind ourselves.

As a society, we grow up and take on the mantles of our forefathers (and mothers) - for better or worse. The punk generation at the heart of Surburbia is a great example of how you can rail against the status quo and actually enact change. After watching the film again, I was struck by the eery similarities between the political landscape we find ourselves in now and the one from the 1980s film. It scares me and gives me hope that we can get in touch with our inner punk and persevere through these unseemly times.

The Shout Select Collector's Edition of Surburbia is now available on Blu-ray.