When people think of punk rock music, they think of the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. However, over the courses of their careers, these bands criticized the very commercial mechanisms that made them famous among punk fans and the counter culture over the last three decades. For those who truly want to avoid punk rock laced with crass commercialism, Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics provide a shining light in the popular music darkness. Williams headlined a revolving Plasmatics band for a decade from 1978 to 1988, when she shut down the band for fear it had run its course. Many people are unaware of the Plasmatics and even more do not realize the impact they had on American punk rock in the 1980s. This infamous band is chronicled with skill in the new DVD Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics: Ten Years of Revolutionary Rock and Roll.
The DVD contains a collection of live concert footage, news clips, and interviews with contemporary musicians that put the band’s influence in perspective. The live concert scenes provide brief glimpses into the musical genius and stage theatrics that Williams found an important part of her art. As well, the DVD allows viewers to click Play from the movie for complete concert footage of various songs popular among Plasmatics fans. This option allows a more fluid viewing experience and should be replicated by future music documentaries.
Some of the best scenes in this documentary, however, come from the television vaults of the 1980s. Television fans who remember talk shows hosted by Tom Snyder and Joan Rivers may be surprised to see repeat appearances by Williams and her group on those shows. The Plasmatics managed to perform their stage tricks, like taking a chainsaw to a guitar, while Williams answered interview questions about her politics and views on women’s role in American society. The footage on this DVD is limited, though interviews with those close to Williams and the Plasmatics provide context to the importance of these appearances.
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of this DVD is the coverage of the band’s constant battle with obscenity laws at venues throughout the United States. In fact, one of the reasons that Williams and other Plasmatics members decided to end the group is that they felt venues were becoming few and far between for their performances. News reports, newspaper clippings, and interviews demonstrate Wendy O. William’s belief that American consumerism had taken away the identity of women and minorities. Even with incidents in places like Milwaukee and Cleveland, Williams remained undeterred in her attempts to destroy the male-dominated world of art, music, and culture. Many of the court cases that followed were decided in favor of Williams, striking a blow at censorship and puritanical local government.
This DVD is remarkable in its ability to equally meld Williams’ musical talents, her political beliefs, and her eye for the dramatic into a cohesive narrative. On their own, legal cases against obscenity are usually not coupled with daring music videos featuring runaway buses. However, Wendy O. Williams and the Plasmatics: Ten Years of Revolutionary Rock and Roll deftly maneuvers between the band’s course from punk rock aspirants to leaders of a revolt against popular music. This DVD is a great gift idea for any music fan who is missing footage of these great punk rockers.