If “Kids” was a little too uplifting for your taste, then this is the documentary for you. Following up “Decline Part I” (a look at the original LA punk scene of the late 70’s) and “Decline Part II: The Metal Years” (the self-explanatory follow-up, perhaps best known for showcasing Ozzy Osbourne’s culinary skills), Part III shifts the focus from the music to the fans – specifically the present-day ‘gutter punks’ of Los Angeles. These are no suburban misfits going through a phase of dyeing their hair pink and wearing safety pins through their noses. These are homeless kids who squat in abandoned buildings, spend their days spare-changing for beer money, and start drinking when the sun comes up. They have names like Squid and Filth and Why-Me. Most of them come from abusive families and very few of them see any future for themselves (in fact, as the end credits reveal, several of the interview subjects have already died).
The twenty years between 1957 and 1977 saw the face of youthful rebellion undergo a seismic shift, from James Dean to Johnny Rotten. But more than twenty years after punk broke, its snarling, spiky image hasn’t changed much (though piercings have continued to proliferate to virtually every body part and orifice). Many of the young punks profiled in “Decline III” weren’t even born when the first installment was released in 1979. What has changed is the level of desperation, at least from the point of view of those who have been around since the early days (interviewees include Keith Morris of the Circle Jerks and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers). The hardcore punks of today’s L.A. are true nihilists, which makes their story both depressing and infuriating. Half the time you feel sorry for them, the other half you just want to slap them around and tell them to get over it.
Shot mainly on handheld video, “Decline III” has a grimy, hit-and-run look perfectly suited to its subject matter. The movie is not entirely devoid of humor, though the brand it delivers is decidedly dark (one punk’s detailed description of an unexpected bowel movement won’t be repeated at many family gatherings). And then there’s the soundtrack, featuring timeless favorites like “Holy Barbecue” by the S*****m Poles, “Drink Drank Punk” by Anti-Flag, and of course, my parents’ wedding song, “I Laugh” by Fluorescent Urine (formerly The NunFuckers). It all adds to a portrait of a subculture most of us would rather avoid, but which shouldn’t be ignored.