MC5: A True Testimonial

By Frank Meyer, Contributing Editor
Wednesday, May 28, 2003 @ 4:35 PM

(Future/Now Films)

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A few weeks back I was in New York and caught a coupla rock-related flicks at the Tribecca Film festival. The highlight of the festival, and of my whole damn trip for that matter, was a screening of the long-awaited, much hyped MC5 documentary MC5: A True Testimonial. Almost a decade in the making, this colorful, rambunctious film not only takes a deep, hard look at the infamous career of Detroit’s most notorious band, the mighty MC5, but is among the most brash and exciting rawk-u-mentaries these eyes have ever seen (and I’ve seen ‘em all, brutha).

Tracing the band’s Motor City origins to their mid-'60s formation as an R&B band to their alliance with John Sinclair and the Black Panthers to their devastating live shows at the Grande Ballroom all the way through their tumultuous recording career and inevitable drug-induced downfall in the early '70s, MC5: A True Testimonial rocks as hard as the band’s music… and that’s saying something!

Featuring incredible clips of the band live on stage in their prime (and not so prime!) and never-before-seen vintage interviews, this film is really the only source to find quality footage of the 5 in action and therefore is not to be missed.

From singer Rob Tyner’s bluesy wail and sex-fueled onstage charisma, to guitar tag-team Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith’s pre-Judas Priest stage choreography and blistering dual, harmony leads, to drummer Dennis Thompson’s prehistoric rumble and bassist Michael Davis’ cool as fuck rebel stance, the band lives up to it’s rep as the baddest of the bad every step of the way. Throughout the picture the two things that keep popping into your mind are, 1. how hard rockin’ these guys were for the friggin’ 60s, and 2. that these guys weren’t HUGE. Yes, a finer example of ass shakin’, fist pumpin’, headbangin’, acid trippin’ music you will not find. Hippy freedom rock? Fuck no. This is street fightin’ music, baby! Music to rob a liquor store to. Know what I’m sayin’?

Surviving MC5ers Kramer, Thompson, and Davis help narrate the film, along with Sinclair, manager Danny Fields, and various wives and friends. Kramer provides the most intelligent, well-spoken perspective on the band’s history, looking back not in anger but with a Cheshire smile at his bands drug-taking, gangbanging, gun-totting ways and inevitable decline into madness, despair and jail, while Davis is every bit the faded burnout one would assume a guy who survived the 5 would surely be by now. But the real firecracker here is Thompson, who yells, curses, freaks out, and pulls a gun on the camera crew throughout the proceedings. Loose cannon? Shit, he’s a friggin’ swerving, heavily armed, runaway tank! The guy is a nut, but the kind of nut needed in a documentary to keep things funny, frightening, and delightfully dangerous.

And make no mistake about it, this ain’t a fluff piece; this is a warts-and-all look at a legendary band most folks have never heard of. Sure, it shows them in their prime, launching A-chord rockets out from the lip of the Grande, taunting the pigs with bayonets attached to their guitars and being firebombed as a result, playing ’68 Democratic Convention as the riots break out and the choppers fly overhead, testifying as to the power of their music to overthrow the government, and in every way living their 3-point plan of “dope, guns and fucking in the streets.” But you also get to see the band failing big time. We watch teary-eyed as the band slips into junkiedom and throws it all away, we wince as they try to go glam and Smith starts donning a spaceman suit on stage, we cringe as Kramer and Smith forge ahead after everyone else quits and tour Europe with an awful pickup band (the MC2?), and we glow with pinky embarrassment as a bloated, sickly Tyner conducts an interview months before his death. Hey, it wouldn’t be a good rock n’ roll story unless every gets fucked up or dies at the end right? Right.

More than just a terrific time capsule of a forgotten era in rock history or simply a really kick ass documentary, MC5: A True Testimonial is a damn good movie all around. Tight, briskly paced, emotional, well-edited, explosive and downright heart-pounding, this movie will surely convert many as to the strengths of this critically acclaimed but commercially ignored band, and as to the talents of filmmakers Laurel Legler and David Thomas. A labor of love to be sure, the film still has no official release date or distributor, which is a goddamn crying shame. Right now…right now… the only way you can check it out is by catching it at an artsy fartsy film festival. So…um…get off your ass, find out where it’s playing near you and GO SEE THIS MOVIE!

Kick out the jams, motherfuckers…. And then go see this movie!

Learn more at www.futurenowfilms.com.

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