"Who the Hell Do They Think They Are?"
By Sarah Cordingley
Although Hard Core Logo is not a particularly original story, the form it is given in both the book and the movie is quite ingenious. Both versions take a mixed media approach, allowing the reader/viewer to feel as though she/he has witnessed the story from a variety of viewpoints. The movie fills in many things that the book leaves to the imagination, which is essentially unavoidable given the nature of film. Both the book and the movie are full of very Canadian elements including an accurate depiction of Canadian punk rock. The mockumentary is a particularly appropriate genre for Hard Core Logo, fitting with many of the story’s thematic concerns. Hard Core Logo is effective as a mockumentary because it blends reality and fiction so well. The story is transformed very effectively from one innovative format to another.
Although the film is for the most part a faithful adaptation of the book, it fills in a lot of the blanks in the story. The events in the book act as a framework that the movie expands on, giving them an appearance of actuality that is not as central to the novel. The many driving scenes in the film act as distinct breaks between cities and concerts, giving the viewer a better concept of time and place than he or she could get from the book. Many of the characters are quite different in the movie than in the book. Billy, for example, seems a lot less enthusiastic about the band reuniting in the movie than in the book. Joe seems less business-minded and a little more likable in the film. John’s schizophrenia and the deterioration of his mental condition are not indicated in the book. Pipefitter, however, is the same whiney, stereotypical punk rock drummer in both versions.
One major change to the story that is made in the movie is the ending. The unfinalized and depressing end of the book is replaced by the startling suicide of Joe Dick. This change is fairly reflective of the different challenges faced by authors and directors. After all, it would have been difficult for Turner to write the more drastic ending, especially following the format of his book. Joe’s death would have had to have been revealed through a phone message, a note, a death certificate, or some other passive and indirect form. It would definitely not be as effective as the death in the movie. But to me the movie ending almost seems like a Hollywood cop out. Joe Dick’s continued failure at the punk rock business until he’s middle aged is a lot more realistic and harder to accept than the typical rock and roll suicide. It doesn’t seem quite appropriate for Joe Dick to be immortalized by an almost glamourous end.
Many of the differences between the book and the film result simply because of the differences between the two media. The book is quite a passive form. The movie has the advantage of being loud and visual, making it a lot harder to ignore than the book. Because the book is mostly thought and dialogue which simply comment on the events taking place, it is difficult for the reader to picture the events happening. The movie shows the events, allowing the viewer to form his or her own impression of them rather than simply hearing the impressions that the characters have formed. The film is able to suggest things a lot more subtly than the book. Because of the book’s format, there is very little description of what the characters are doing and how they are doing them. At best, we are told how the characters feel about what they are doing: “I’m getting a really good feeling about this” (Turner, 36). The movie cannot state feelings in the same way that the book can. Because it is supposed to be a documentary, there can be no narration or internal monologue voice over in the film (although we let it get away with John’s diary being read). Anything that any of the characters say must be something that they would say to each other or to the camera. Since the Hard Cores don’t always express their feelings honestly to each other (which is one of the main reasons for all of the tension within the band) the movie is forced to show their emotions through actions and facial expressions. In the book, thoughts are written in italics. For the most part, this information is revealed in the movie by editing what are ostensibly parts of interviews over images of the characters in thoughtful poses. This is very effective in adding meaning to many scenes.
Both the film and the book employ a lot of mixed media techniques. The book is essentially a collage of “letters, FAXes, phone messages, posters, contracts, song lyrics, interviews, diary entries…and god only knows what else” (Pratt, 47). The movie is a sort of collage as well. It plays with different types of film and video and is essentially an “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). McDonald fabricates news stories that appear to be the archived footage frequently found in documentaries. Most scenes are shot in colour, but a few are in black and white. This adds to a very powerful element of the film: the fact that the audience is aware of the filmmaker’s presence.
The mockumentary seems to be the perfect genre of film for this story. The format itself seems to ridicule how seriously the band takes itself. It also follows the story’s theme of deception. Throughout the film, Joe is deceptive. He lies to his bandmates (about Bucky Haight being shot), he lies to his fans (“You people, you’re the fucking coolest…you see, I was just lying there”), and he lies to himself (Hard Core Logo). The film seems to lie as well. It makes the audience believe that real life events are simply being documented, when it is actually fiction. The documentary seems to me to be the punk rock of film. After all, Canadian documentaries and punk rock since the 1980’s seem to share the same purpose: to “break new ground in subject matter and form,” and to “challenge us to look more closely at the social, cultural, and political patterns and habits we have set for ourselves” (Steven, 5). They are both rough and gritty, with a do-it-yourself attitude, and both attempt to “connect with audiences in order to produce social change” (Steven, 8)
The main reason that the film is so convincing is the blending of reality and fiction. The setting is so real that it’s hard to believe the story is not. The Hard Cores’ tour takes place along real Canadian highways, in real clubs in real Canadian cities, with real Canadian bands playing their actual songs. I found it quite confusing when I first watched the movie and saw the Modernettes playing “Suicide club” at what appeared to be a real concert. The acting is so full of spontaneity that it’s hard to imagine there was a script. But ,according to screenwriter Noel S. Baker, there was one: “the actors were sometimes loose with dialogue, working off my dialogue in much the same way that I worked off Michael Turner’s writing. The final product contains maybe 70 to 80 percent of the dialogue I wrote” (Baker, 22). He also commented that it seemed “the performances were too ‘real’ to be considered acting by whoever makes the nominations [for the Genie Awards]” (Baker, 21). The film has a very clever way of simultaneously emphasizing and denying the fact that it is a work of fiction. The Hard Cores even make subtle comments about themselves as a fictional band. During their road trip games, they mention the movie Spinal Tap, and compete to come up with “fake Canadian band” names (Hard Core Logo). As in his previous film, Roadkill, Bruce McDonald includes himself (playing himself as a filmmaker) in many of the scenes. He can often be heard saying things that seem indicative of a poorly edited documentary: “Ok, cut” (Hard Core Logo). The film is so effective in appearing real that it is easy to mistake this piece of spectacular filmmaking for “a work of low culture” (Baker, 22).
Overall, both the book and the film are quite decidedly Canadian in content. Their touring route is extremely accurate, right down to “Hungry? Herby’s Diner” in Cache Creek. The depictions of specific cities and their music ‘scenes’ are almost disturbingly true. In fact, punk rock is a very Canadian topic. Although there are very few Canadian punk bands that “made it big,” the same was true of punk bands around the world. The punk era was perhaps the only time that the Canadian music scene was functioning as well per capita as that of the U.S. One successful (or at least as successful as a punk rockers can be) Canadian punk band, DOA, is still around and touring. DOA was featured in Hard Core Logo and, I believe, may have served as inspiration for the original story. After all, DOA was the only thrash-punk band playing in Canada in 1978 with “feedback intros” and nationalistic lyrics (Turner, 34). The pseudonym of DOA’s frontman, Joe Shithead, is also remarkably close to Joe Dick’s. Perhaps Joe was a DOA fan. Many of H.C.L’s songs are about very Canadian things (“Edmonton Block Heater”) and the tour van conversation often involves Canadian topics (Turner, 42). The fact that Billy feels he has to move to the U.S. in order to become successful in the entertainment industry is one unfortunate Canadian issue addressed in the movie. The documentary film is in itself a very traditionally Canadian form. But by far the most ironically Canadian element of Hard Core Logo is the fact that - despite almost unanimously positive critical reviews - the movie did not do particularly well in the box office (Baker, 23).
The book and especially the movie focus on the punk rock lifestyle and punk rock ethics. They both point out the hypocrisy that always seems to be present in punk. In the beginning, it seems , every good punk band, including Hard Core Logo, had good intentions: to get kids active, to bring up important issues, and, most of all, to fight capitalism. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to fight something that you’re surrounded by. In the movie, Joe mentions the Sex Pistols’ “Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle,” and attempts to apply it to Hard Core Logo. The swindle involves selling the music to the system that it hates. This is essentially the only way a punk rock band ever beat capitalism: by profiting from it. But if Joe is so willing to do this, then why does he seem to do everything he can to keep the Hard Cores from getting big? As is the case with most punk rockers, it seems he is not as confident about his beliefs as he’d like to think. Joe is so preoccupied with creating his punk rock persona that he forgets who he is in reality.
Throughout the book and the movie, we see the Hard Cores going against their own anti-capitalist roots. Pipefitter seems to have agreed to the reunion tour just for the money: “Two thousand dollars each for a weeks worth of gigs. Sounds pretty good to me” (Turner, 78). Joe's extensive calculations of the potential profit they might make selling merchandise indicate that he’s more concerned with the financial end of things than he’d like people to think (Turner, 82). He hates the music industry and everything it stands for, but he’s perfectly comfortable selling T-shirts and tapes at a huge mark up. In many ways, he has the same attitude as the rock stars that he despises. Billy, on the other hand, is less concerned with making money on this tour than with becoming famous in the future: “Just unplugged his guitar, walked off stage, into a cab, gone. Didn’t even wait to get paid” (Turner, 186). He’s not playing punk rock because he believes in it. He is simply trying to become a star. It seems that he’s willing to play whatever kind of music he can “make it big with” (Turner, 175). It would appear, then, that John is the only member of HCL that retains any punk values. Throughout the book and the movie, it is clear that John is playing to express himself. He’s not concerned with money or fame. He simply wants to “be a part of something good” (Turner, 171).
Overall, both the film and the novel Hard Core Logo are extremely innovative works. Both challenge the reader/viewer. The book is challenging because it tells the story in a fragmented and unconventional way. The movie is challenging because it seems far too real. There are few other examples of fiction as believable as Hard Core Logo. The two versions differ considerably, but this is mainly due to the differences in the two media. Although the book forces the reader to be more thoughtfully involved, the film is better able to capture the noise that is created by Hard Core Logo both on stage and off.
Baker, Noel S. “Raves Don’t Pay the Rent.” Canadian Forum. April 1997: 20-23.
Golfman, Noreen. “Hard Core Logo: A Love Story.” Canadian Forum. March 1997: 30-31
Hard Core Logo. Dir. Bruce McDonald. Perf. Hugh Dillon, Callum Keith Rennie, Julian Richings. Rolling Thunder, 1996.
Pratt, Brian. “Populism Is a Hard Act to Follow.” New Directions. October 1993: 47
Steven, Peter. Brink of Reality: New Canadian Documentary Film and Video. Toronto: Between the Lines, 1993.
Turner, Michael. Hard Core Logo. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 1993.