Malcolm McLaren leaves a long legacy as the self-styled architect of punk, both as a musical form and a lifestyle choice, not to mention a fashion statement, but no matter what he may have preferred to think, he did not do it alone. His wife in the nineteen-seventies was fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and she deserves to share plenty of the credit for creating the whole look of the movement, a carefully cultivated DIY appearance that encouraged the followers to go out and do their own thing. But they did not so much, and the punks tended to gather as a counterculture tribe, looking the same...
So what else to do but, over forty years later, burn it all down? That's what McLaren and Westwood's son Joe Corre was convinced should be punk's real legacy - "You have to destroy in order to create" being a mantra of the originals - and he caused outrage when he announced he was going to set fire to five million pounds worth of memorabilia from his father's personal collection, which had somehow ended up in Corre's hands. Director Nigel Askew charts this controversy to an extent, but when the outrage fizzles out and it turns out the wider public don't care, he takes a different tack.
There were filmed inserts produced to be reminiscent of McLaren's sorry film project The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle where little kids from a Victorian-style workhouse, working on clothes manufacture, discussed the evils of capitalism at length, nothing that many would find too objectionable in words, but a rather patronising method of getting the message across. Then there were interviews with Westwood who presumably preferred this documentary to the last one made about her which she denounced, after all it was her boy making this one, and his half-brother was a presence in the film as well, rendering it a family affair.
Also included were footage of climate change protests, which Askew regarded as the true spirit of punk now, in the twenty-first century, so there was a lot of time given over to footage of demonstrators with their placards. Fair enough, there was a connection, but punk was for anarchy, supposedly, and organising into a political movement seemed off-message, despite the likes of Rock Against Racism being a thing that sprang from it. And what of all that doomed memorabilia? For quite a bit of the running time it appears uncertain whether Corre will fulfil his promise, and the only reason he does actually do what he suggested was because he couldn't lose face and look weak for going back on his word.
However, then what amounts to a twist emerges. We discover that Corre was written out of his father's will, despite Corre thinking he had a pretty good relationship with him by the end of his life after some rocky times, and we come to see this act of destruction as a form of vengeance thanks to daddy issues rather than a grand statement. The clips we do see of ageing punks discussing what it really means can be quite embarrassing, as the over-earnestness and argumentative nature results in the opposite of a consensus, with some accused of joining the establishment punk was meant to rail against. There may be a point there as an exhibition in London is seen as the nadir of the commodification of punk, as if a Never Mind the Bollocks credit card were not bad enough, as meanwhile Westwood does get her points across, against the odds. If it was a confused result, the gist was there: no sell-outs, please. Though hadn't the KLF beaten them to the punch with their stunt from the nineties?
[Wake Up Punk will coming to select cinemas from May 5th and will be available On Demand from May 9th 2022.