• Clockwork Orange County

    Directed by: Jonathan W.C. Mills
    Released by: Celebrity Entertainment/MVD Visual
    Released on: June 3, 2014
    Cast: Jello Biafra, Keith Morris, Mike Roche, Henry Rollins
    Year: 2010
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    The Movie

    Clockwork Orange County is a 2010 documentary about The Cuckoo's Nest in Costa Mesa, California, a legendary punk club that hosted shows for many of the original West Coast punk rock bands including T.S.O.L., Circle Jerks, Black Flag, The Adolescents, The Vandals, and many more.

    The documentary begins with several veterans of California hardcore talking about the scene's origins at The Cuckoo's Nest in 1979. Then the clock turns back even further to 1975 for a brief history lesson in how all these suburban kids from Orange County, California became the progenitors of West Coast punk rock as we know it. Many of the kids who started the original punk bands in Southern California came from middle class suburban families, but some of them grew up poor and almost everyone was alienated or disenfranchised in some way. Tony Reflex of The Adolescents talks about having to sell flowers on the street for money and being regularly beaten up for it. Keith Morris also talks about being bullied at school. Eventually, kids like Tony Reflex and Keith Morris found an outlet for their aggression in punk rock.

    Some of the speakers (like Mike Roche of T.S.O.L.) think that the aggression or violence in the music was something innate to the people who were drawn towards it. Violence was punk. Henry Rollins agrees. He says at one point, “if you're going to be punk rock, you need to learn to fight, because you're gonna have to fight in unorthodox places, like coming out of the 7-11.” Punk is in the blood, the filmmakers want to say, but Rollins is apt to point out that the scene was also a historical accident, a reaction against the hippies, 70s rock radio, and Ronald Reagan. Joe Escalante of The Vandals and a few others say it was just about making music, having fun, and letting out some healthy aggression. When punk mutated into hardcore, it attracted even more violent crowds of former football jocks and shaved gorillas that were ready to fight. The bigger punk became in California, the more it attracted violence, both in the clubs and on the streets. Punks that attended The Cuckoos Nest routinely were the target of violence by shitkickers from the cowboy bar next door.

    Much of what made West Coast punk rock unique was its connection to surf and skate culture. Former Pro Skater Steve Olson fills in the historical details with his burnout patois and talks about how skate culture quickly superseded the hippie culture of the early 70s. A lot of the attitude of surf and skate culture filtered into the attitudes of these young punks. As skate culture gave way to the punk scene, The Cuckoo's Nest was established in 1978 in Orange County by businessman Jerry Roach to provide a venue for this new music. Initially the club wasn't even meant to host punk shows, but local AM Radio style rock acts. Eventually Roach began booking punk shows and the place became the epicenter of punk rock in Orange County. Roach appears on camera and archival footage and voiceovers, and he becomes in many ways the real focus of the documentary; this California businessman who lost money by giving these kids and this new music a home, and who fought the Costa Mesa Police Department and City Hall when the establishment tried to take that home away from them.

    Clockwork Orange County is shot in a straightforward style, using archival footage as well as numerous photos taken at the club for historical reference, and features interviews with many of Orange County's original punk rockers. Jello Biafra, Keith Morris, Henry Rollins, Duane Peters, Mike Roche, and many more veterans of the West Coast punk and hardcore scene are present to tell their side of the story, and they tell it how exactly they remember it. These recollections of days spent at the club (and in the parking lot) wasted on black beauties and beer can sometimes contradict one another, but there are enough different perspectives from the various scene leaders that an overall picture of The Cuckoos Nest and its place in the scene evens out the discrepancies in the story. The transitions between the speakers are pretty rough. They're usually introduced without any context other than “here's this guy from this band,” and the transitions from subject to subject in the doc can be abrupt. The production values overall are pretty amateurish, and it's clear that this is director Johnathan W.C. Mills' first feature-length production, but the rough style of the documentary fits its punk rock subject matter.


    Clockwork Orange County is presented in 4:3 with an MPEG-2 encoded DVD. Picture quality varies from interview to interview. The more recent interviews tend to feature more detail and look like they were shot on modern digital equipment. Henry Rollins tends to be lit a lot darker than the rest of the interviewees and I'm not sure that's on purpose. Jack Grisham of T.S.O.L. looks like he was filmed on a cell phone or a webcam. The digital video quality is all over the place, but the archival footage (which is mostly in black and white and occasionally in sepia tone looks consistently good with a nice level of grainy detail despite the age of the footage.

    Audio-wise, Clockwork Orange County doesn't sound so good. It's presented in 2-channel Stereo, but it doesn't sound in stereo to me. The interviewees are all clearly audible, with the exception of the Jack Grisham interview, when the audio starts clipping and sounds like his voice is being recorded through a fan. There are some archival performances of T.S.O.L., Circle Jerks and Black Flag, but the audio quality on the footage here is very flat and they sound worse than you might expect from a degraded cassette tape. The footage is nice to look at but these bands have all been recorded better live elsewhere.

    Besides a trailer for the documentary, there are no special features included on this disc.

    The Final Word

    If you're a fan of West Coast punk and hardcore and have nothing better to do, grab a couple of brews and watch Clockwork Orange County at your next TV Party.