Like every step in to a public space (a supermarket, a movie theatre, a mall), which allows us to see people we probably never knew existed, documentaries introduce us to people, events, and situations that are usually unknown to us. Camerawork, lighting, editing, and audio might affect the technical qualities; subject matter and pacing inevitably impacts our perception of the extent that the documentary is engaging, but an intrinsic willingness we have in listening to strangers talk about themselves assures that our interest in watching a particular documentary may diminish but is seldom completely lost. “Bellmoore: The Unscene” (Frank Fusco, 2003) capitalizes on our curiosity in the lives and histories of other people.
Fusco’s film is about the music scene in Bellmoore, Long Island. The bands featured in this ninety minute-long presentation include Zombula-451, Not Saved, Eggplant Queens, Rat Bastard, Spacemaker, Whatsoever, Agnostic Front, The Intellectuals, and Justified Violence. As the documentary reveals, since many of these bands have shared (or swapped) singers and bassists, they are primarily distinct in name and “style.” It shouldn’t come to you as a surprise if you’re not familiar with Bellmoore punk. Born in the mid 80s by the junior high-aged members of The Intellectuals and Justified Violence, the Bellmoore music scene flourished for the most part within city limits. If longevity, mass exposure, and collective artistic ambition are at all factors in whether or not the work of several musicians really constitute a music “scene,” then the bands of Bellmoore contribute to an “unscene.”
Twenty years is certainly long enough for a musical movement, but by the end of the documentary’s filming, there were two active bands in Bellmoore. Even if a “scene” doesn’t rely on numbers and musical mission is more important, you would still prefer to call Bellmoore a music “unscene”—just as a few of the musicians describe it. Ultimately, determining whether the music scene is really a scene is irrelevant. “Bellmoore” leaves you with an impression of a dozen or so guys—yes, all bands are comprised of males—who play music for fun, for an audience of themselves and their friends. Without packing a powerful ideological message as a driving force, Fusco risks losing our interest in his one-and-a-half-hour-long documentary. But after sixty minutes with Ron Bianco, Mike Stramberg, Joe Kollar and gang, we’ve taken a liking to them, and gladly watch them talk about music, tattoos, and Bellmoore.