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Lech Kowalski
Sex Pistols
Writing Credits:
Lech Kowalski, Chris Salewicz

DOA traces the punk movement via the Sex Pistols' 1978 US tour.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English PCM Stereo
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 94 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 12/15/2017

• “The Punk Documentary That Almost Never Was” Documentary
• Image Gallery
• Trailers
• Liner Notes and Poster
• DVD Copy


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-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


DOA: A Rite of Passage [Blu-Ray] (1980)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 8, 2018)

Released in 1980, DOA: A Rite of Passage takes us to the punk rock revolution of the late 1970s. In particular, the film concentrates on genre pioneers the Sex Pistols.

In 1978, the Pistols embarked on their only US tour – well, until they reunited in 1996, at least. DOA traces the Pistols through the US and gets involved into the state of the punk scene at that time as well.

Parts of DOA focus on the Pistols’ performances, and we also get comments from “random people” at or around the concerts. In addition, we hear from British “anti-smut crusader” Mary Whitehouse, wealthy heir Jonathan Guinness, tour manager Heidi Robinson, Greater London Council member Bernard Brooke Partridge, record store owner “Bleecker Bob”, and a few unnamed “experts” of various stripes. P> In terms of our main band, we hear from Pistols Sid Vicious along with his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. We also find comments from musicians Terry Sylvester and Tony James.

As for performances, we get a few bands in addition to the Pistols. Along the way, we hear X-Ray Spex, Rich Kids, Generation X, Terry and the Idiots, Sham 69 and Dead Boys.

Though the Pistols’ 1978 tour acts as the primary glue within DOA, the film jumps around a lot to examine other areas. While this gives the movie a breadth it would lack if it stayed solely with the concert setting, it also means that the end result becomes a bit of a hodge-podge.

To some degree, DOA wants to examine the impact and meaning of the punk scene. However, it doesn’t dig into these topics with much depth – it acts more as a snapshot than a dynamic exploration.

That means no real through-line, as instead, DOA feels fairly loosely constructed. If director Lech Kowalski desires a coherent point, this doesn’t become obvious.

I find that side of the film to become a disappointment. Then again, given the punk scene’s emphasis on anarchy, perhaps a documentary with a seemingly random focus makes sense.

Whatever the case, DOA works better as a collection of occasional highlights than a coherent piece, and the shots of the Pistols on stage fare best. Apparently Kowalski encountered stiff resistance from the band’s label and struggled to get this footage.

Nonetheless, the film generates some solid glimpses of the Pistols on their sole “classic era” US tour. Given the awkward nature of the photography, I’m not sure a full hour of this footage would work, but in these smaller doses, it’s a treat.

DOA’s most infamous moments come from the shots with Vicious and Spungen. Director Alex Cox used that footage as inspiration for 1986’s Sid and Nancy, and it’s fascinating – in a depressing way – to see that ill-fated couple.

As for the rest of DOA, it becomes a mixed bag. The comments from various pro or anti-punk parties suffer from the film’s general lack of narrative clarity. Do some stuffy blue-blood’s denunciations add much? Not really.

The non-Pistols performance footage doesn’t bring much either, though it’s mildly interesting to see Generation X – Billy Idol’s first band – play. Oddly, DOA overdubs a studio recording, so we don’t get to hear the group live.

By the way, did people really regard Generation X’s “Kiss Me Deadly” as a “punk song”? Boy, does it sound like pretty standard pop-rock to me.

Granted, lots of punk doesn’t match the common idea of “anarchic noise”. Never Mind the Bollocks offers a well-produced, fairly commercial album, and the Clash weren’t exactly unpolished either.

But “Kiss Me Deadly” just doesn’t “sound punk” at all. It has more in common with Idol’s 1980s hits like “Rebel Yell” than the punk of its era.

The other bands featured sound “more punk”, at least – and they certainly vary in quality. I like that, as I think it’s appropriate to feature the lesser lights as well. Did Terry and the Idiots have any talent whatsoever? Nope, but it’s good to sense the breadth of the punk movement.

DOA doesn’t attempt a true history of punk – for better or for worse, it gives us a snapshot of its era. While I might like something a bit more coherent, the end result brings us enough verisimilitude to satisfy.

The Disc Grades: Picture D+/ Audio C-/ Bonus B-

DOA: A Rite of Passage appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Should one expect attractive visuals from a nearly 40-year-old no-budget documentary shot on 16mm film? No, one shouldn’t.

For the most part, sharpness seemed adequate. Much of the program featured reasonably good accuracy and a fairly well delineated image.

However, some softness did occur at times, partially due to the documentary setting. The show appeared slightly gauzy on occasion and displayed moderate fuzziness, though most of it was acceptably distinct.

Jagged edges and moiré effects weren’t an issue. In addition, the image seemed to be free of edge enhancement.

Print flaws caused the majority of the concerns. Throughout the show, I saw many examples of speckles, nicks, marks, blotches, lines and additional debris. Black levels were somewhat inky and muddy, and shadow detail generally looked a little thick, as low-light situations could be difficult to discern. Objectively, this wasn’t a good-looking presentation, but I can’t claim I anticipated much more from it.

As for the film’s PCM stereo audio, it varied as well. The soundfield expanded to the side speakers solely for music, and that side of matters remained erratic.

Some studio-recorded songs – like Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing” – showed good stereo presence, while most – like the Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” and the Clash’s “Police and Thieves” – remained monaural. As expected, all of the live recordings stayed mono. Given that I figured DOA would be solely one-channel, the occasional stereo presentation felt like a bonus.

Also as anticipated, audio quality tended toward the low-fi side of the street, though some of the pre-recorded tracks sounded pretty good. Again, “Nightclubbing” showed nice range and clarity, but other tracks – like “Queen” or “Thieves” – seemed distorted and harsh.

I can’t explain the low-lights in terms of those studio tracks. I’d guess that the film’s producers managed to get access to some superior tapes for the movie’s video release but not all.

That would explain the variation, as “Nightclubbing” probably came from an “update” while “Queen” went with the original 1980 soundtrack. That’s just a guess, though.

Whatever the case, high-quality reproduction like “Nightclubbing” remained the exception to the rule, as most of the material seemed pretty rough. The live tracks always came across as distorted, with little range or clarity.

The rest of the track followed suit. Dialogue remained intelligible but not especially natural, and effects – a minor element – showed similar restrictions.

Occasional instances of source issues manifested, mainly via hiss and some high-pitched noises. None of this surprised me, as I didn’t expect much from a low-budget documentary shot almost 40 years ago.

When we head to extras, the primary attraction comes The Punk Documentary That Almost Never Was, a one-hour, 55-minute, 23-second piece with notes from PUNK Magazine founding editor John Holmstrom, journalist Chris Salewicz, photographer Roberta Bayley, author Mick O’Shea, cinematographer Rufus Standefer, crew members Mary Killen and David King, “original Sex Pistols fan” Lamar St. John, former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren (from 1984 and 2001), and musicians Midge Ure, Billy Idol (from 1984) and John Lydon (from 1984).

“Almost” opens with a basic history of punk rock and then goes into elements connected to the creation of DOA. “Almost” offers good perspectives and gives us a mostly positive overview, but I can’t claim it becomes an especially engaging documentary. It does enough to keep us with it but it fails to turn into anything especially dynamic.

In addition to trailers for DOA and Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, the disc throws in an Image Gallery. It offers 51 shots of the Pistols on tour and gives us a nice collection.

A second disc provides a DVD copy of DOA. It includes the same extras as the Blu-ray.

Along with a poster, the package features photos and an essay from John Holmstrom. These elements add some value to the release.

No one will confuse DOA: A Rite of Passage as a concise documentary. However, it offers a pretty effective look at the punk scene in its heyday. The Blu-ray brings us spotty picture and audio along with a long discussion of the film. DOA becomes a fairly evocative program.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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