Blurring the Boundaries: Hard Core Logo
By Sheryl Sadorski
The book Hard Core Logo, by Michael Turner, was a successful story which inspired director Bruce McDonald to create an equally successful film version. Both genres succeed in pulling the audience into the story, describing what punk music and life in a band is all about. The movie and the book also use an original approach to tell their story. Turner uses a diary-style compilation of poetry, notes, prose and thoughts accompanied by an ensemble of black and white photographs to take the reader along the band’s chaotic voyage on the road. For his film version, McDonald chose to use the film style cinema verite documentary. When first viewing both genres, it is clear that each is highly influenced by the ideals of postmodernism.But are these works strictly postmodern? Is postmodernism the best term to describe these stories? Are they postmodern works at all?
In the book, Hard Core Logo, Turner uses many postmodern elements throughout his story of a punk rock band. In fact, one could say that the genre of punk music itself is postmodern. The idea of punk is not only to interrogate and fragment the music scene which it permeates, but also to use its alternative style in defiance of the music scene in general. Punk music celebrates the decenteredness of its genre, heralding its sound as being without “norms” and “universals”. The ideals of punk, therefore, correlate with the concepts of postmodernism. Using his writing as a vehicle, Turner takes the genre of punk music one step further. Turner’s work was described by Tim Carlson of the Vancouver Sun as being “ Perhaps some combination-never entirely a true form. Turner insists on leaving his books open to innovation”(Carlson C5). Turner’s book, Hard Core Logo proves Carlson’s point. In the book, Turner never finalizes an ending, or a certain plot motif. Turner keeps all his writing and ideas open for exploration, making it more of a challenge for the reader to understand and visualize where the story is going. This fragmentation and disorder is the book’s key link to postmodernism.
Turner relies on prose, poetry, punk lyrics, answering machine messages, and restaurant orders to successfully tell the story of a punk band’s disjointed journey. The hodgepodge of writing genres creates a non-linear story in which the reader is holistically engaged in a process, rather than a sequence of events. One can pick up a copy of Hard Core Logo, and open it at any page and still be able to understand Turner’s meaning. Turner uses multimedia to create the chaos of the music world, and to challenge the reader by creating disruptions in the literary flow. This involvement of media, photograph-like images, as well as song lyrics, collapses the boundaries that literature has set for its genre. Moreover, including many viewpoints as to why events occur in the book, such as why the band split up, is also concurrent with postmodernist ideology’s approach to examining historical happenings. By using this postmodern method of retelling history, Turner enables us to hear the viewpoint of all band members, challenging us to use critical thinking skills to discern reality from fiction. On pages 14 and 22, for example, Turner details each band member’s different version of Hard Core Logo’s demise. Here, Turner consciously deconstructs the notion of one true history. There are times when Turner makes it unclear who is speaking at all, challenging the reader to assess what they know about the haracters and identify the unknown speaker. An example of this occurs on page 94, as the band is ordering in a restauarant. The struggle for the reader is to figure out which character is ordering what. Examples like this one can be found throughout Turner’s story.
While postmodernism is reflected in Turner’s book, Hard Core Logo, what makes this story postmodern is ironically also what makes this story not postmodern. The idea of making the book like a collage, or fragments of a story, is postmodern, yet this approach also challenges postmodern ideology. Turner’s story is about memories. These memories reflect the history of the band and the different perspectives of all involved, much like a diary or an interview would. Memories are fragmented, non-linear versions of reality. This makes Turner’s book more realistic then one may think. Yet, one aspect of postmodernism is to deconstruct reality. Turner takes fragmented genres, and turns them into memories, a collaboration of thoughts and ideas that a creative collective genius has gathered. Hard Core Logo becomes a road story scrapbook of pictures and writings by the band. The compilation of entries in this book make the story of the band, Hard Core Logo, seem less fictional and more realistic. Postmodernism strives on breaking down realism, becoming fictional, almost dreamlike, unreal and deliberately hazy. Hard Core Logo lacks the linear structure a traditional novel is based on. This non-linear aspect is found in life as well. The style in which Hard Core Logo is written creates a realistic snapshot of daily life by taking journal entries and other writings and turning them into a story that has anything but a narrative structure. Lyrics, invoices, and photos make the book non-fictional, which in fact, challenges the postmodern penchant for non-reality.
The film Hard Core Logo, directed by Bruce McDonald, was inspired by Turner’s unique book. Although the basis for both the book and film genres is similar, McDonald uses the characteristics of film to change Turner’s story, making it original and successful as a feature length film. In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Turner described himself as being “aligned closer with the worlds of music, visual arts and media art than with the orbit of any writing supports establishment”(Carlson, C5). The success of the movie Hard Core Logo shows Turner’s insight. McDonald employ cinema verite, a film technique that uses aleatory methods and does not interfere with the way events take place in reality. Although Hard Core Logo is a fictional film, “it unreels in a surprising form of cinema verite documentary covering a reunion tour of a four man punk band”(Golfman 30). This style of film-making is uncommon, but well chosen to represent Turner’s uncommon book. McDonald layers the film Hard Core Logo with postmodernist elements. The idea of filming a mockumentary is postmodern in itself. The style in which McDonald films this movie, much like the way Turner wrote the story, interrogates truth claims. By making this movie a fake documentary, McDonald takes the truest form of truthful filmmaking, the documentary, hence interrogating the truth origins and history of the film. The mockumentary, much like punk music, is a revolt on the genre from which it originated. This genre uses the power of capturing reality, and deconstructs it by using fiction as the basis of the film.
McDonald uses many film techniques to create a postmodern feel in his work. The integration of black and white film and colour film breaks down the time barrier and blurs the linear movement of the film. Intermittent flashbacks in black and white shatter the colour ‘here and now’ reality. While the audience watches the band Hard Core Logo chronologically move along on their road tour, McDonald interferes in this chronology by splicing in old interviews and scenes.This postmodern technique creates a fragmented and indeterminate world. McDonald also incorporates a diverse array of complementary images, such as the Virgin Mary on the dash board, as well as the wavy, unrealistic highway lines to remind the audience of its postmodern elements. McDonald integrates genres as well. He uses claymation in one scene to show the the group’s van traveling to their next location. The noises of guns shooting when they enter Calgary, gives the film an animated feel, blurring the idea of documentary with two other well known Canadian film genres, claymation and animation.
A wonderful example of postmodernism evident in McDonald’s film is the scene in which Billy and Joe alter time and reality by making themselves invisible to each other. In this scene, the background noise and movement becomes frozen, telling the audience that both characters can miraculously halt the universal movement of time. This scene deconstructs reality, creating an alternate reality in which both men live. A scene with the characters, Billy and Joe, also brings in the postmodern practice of engaging in mainstream pop culture. Billy and Joe play the movie game in one scene on the road during which they mention Spinal Tap. The idea of connecting one mockumentary with another is a very postmodern notion. This technique is used in many postmodern writings and film, one example being Robert LePage’s LePolygraph, in which Shakespeare’s Hamlet is also mentioned. The idea of the play within the play is mirrored by McDonald’s film within a film. The film Hard Core Logo plays on another postmodern ideal, that there are no real answers to life. The film explores the complexity of life and the idea that the world is so problematic, there is nothing that can solve these complex realities. The viewer witnesses these problems play out in McDonald’s documentary-style filming. Noreen Golfman, a writer for Canadian Forum describes McDonald’s film version: “Hard Core Logo reinvents the genre of documentary to offer a view of this country from the bottom down, unvarnished and dirty-earthy”(Golfman 30). In McDonald’s filming, there are no answers to for the troubled band, their touring route, or even their lives. This ‘doomed’ feeling McDonald expresses is a clear aspect of postmodernist thought.
Although McDonald uses postmodernism in order to question the truth and rewrite history in his mockumentary style filming, the elements he borrows from postmodernism also work against certain postmodern ideals. McDonald does such an effective job of mastering the difficult style of cinema verite, that the viewers are tricked into believing that Hard Core Logo truly does exist. In the Calgary Herald, McDonald confesses, “I had people saying, ‘ I saw Hard Core Logo at the Commodore in ‘82’! And I said, ‘ No, no, this is a made up band.’ and they go, ‘ Oh, wow! I thought those guys were real!”(Mayes C6). McDonald’s film story is so true-to-life, he has summoned up audiences’ memories of never possible gigs. The heightened reality of McDonald’s movie, therefore questions the postmodernism which he expresses in his film.
McDonald also uses various film techniques to make his film more realistically documented then one would imagine possible. McDonald gives the viewers visual tallies of the number of kilometers driven and cigarettes smoked. The visual tracing of the trip using a line drawn on a geographical map, super imposed on the screen, gives the illusion of a real documented journey. McDonald also uses dates and times printed on the bottom of the screen, pinpointing the journey in time to increase the sense of reality. These film conventions would not be as effective if used in another film genre. However, because McDonald uses mockumentary, these elements add realism and a believability of time and location much like a documentary would. Thus, the illusory official documentation makes the film seem less fictional.
McDonald also uses the cinema verite style as a way of creating realism in the process of filming the band. Golfman describes McDonald’s use of this film genre: The device permits McDonald not only to shoot himself, but also to experiment with the conventions of naturalistic filmmaking: hand-held camera work, moments of apparent off-the-record candor, overlapping sound, chaotic composition and a general sense of episodic unpredictability (Golfman 30).Although the chaotic nature relates to postmodernism’s penchant for the unreal, this same element of chaos also makes Hard Core Logo actually seem more realistic. McDonald once called Hard Core Logo, “Spinal Tap’s mean little brother”(Anderlini 43). However, Hard Core Logo goes beyond the grass roots of Spinal Tap. Whereas Spinal Tap gives the viewer a comical look at heavy metal band parody, Hard Core Logo dances between the logic of documentary and narrative. By keeping the movie stars out of the film and using Canadian ensemble-style casting, MacDonald creates a sense of edgy reality. Maclean’s magazine notes that “although Hard Core Logo is an affectionate parody, this parody is undercut by the raw nerve of realism”(89). While Bruce McDonald views Hard Core Logo as a story about growing up and growing apart, Hugh Dillon, who plays Joe Dick, sees the film as “a hard core destruction of masculinity”(Anderlini 44).The book by Michael Turner shows the band’s road trip as a process of a punk band’s demise, as well as a unique reading process for the audience. Throughout these processes, one thing is clear. Although both forms of storytelling play with many elements of postmodernism, neither can be labelled as precise examples of postmodernism. In fact, both the book and the film are hybrids, a combination of genres, pulled together to create there very own style, unique entities. While Turner’s book playfully explores different genres to tell a story, McDonald’s film uses the parody of the documentary structure to create a conventional realist feel to his film. So, how can one describe the book and film Hard Core Logo? Only four words need come to mind; It’s an experience, man!
Turner, Michael. Hard Core Logo. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1996.
Hard Core Logo. Dir. Bruce McDonald. Per. Hugh Allen, Callum Keith Rennie, John Piper, and Bernie Coulson. Terminal City Pictures and Shadow Shows, 1998.
Carlson, Tim. “ Rebel to the hard core: Novelist, poet, and songwriter Michael Turner has little time for anything conventional.” Vancouver Sun 13 Nov. 1996, final ed.: C5.
Baker, Noel S. “Hard core roadshow” University of Toronto Quarterly v.68 (1998) : 593 - 594.
Golfman, Noreen. “Hard Core Logo: A Love Story.” Canadian Forum December. 1996: 30-31.
Mayes, Alison. “Hard Core Logo: Mock documentary mistaken for the real thing.” The Calgary Herald 16 October. 1996, Final ed.:C6+“Movie Reviews.” Maclean’s (Toronto Edition) 14 October. 1996: 89-90.
Anderlini, Ken. “Hard Core Logo” Take One (1996) : 42-44.
Ratsoy, Ginny, ed. Canadian Studies 242: Canadian Literature on Film.. Kamloops: Cancopy, 2002.
Hoffman, James. “ Theatre 320: Hoffman’s Guide to Postmodernism”. Unpublished handout, 2002.