Screen Reviews
Desolation Center

Desolation Center

directed by Stuart Swezey

starring Anthony Ausgang, Joe Baiza, Bob Bert, D. Boon

Mu Productions

By 1983 the early risers in the LA punk scene were dead or with a label. The punks offered a lightning rod for the hatred of the LAPD; police chief Daryll Gates spent most of his time busting punk clubs. Busting punk shows made good TV, but it drove producer Stuart Swezey and his punk buddies out into the Mojave desert. How to get the punks out there? He rented a bus, picked them up and dropped them off, just like grade school. All sorts of artists tagged along, including some guy working with high explosives. No one was hurt, and it was as cool as possible. The bands were unsigned acts like The Misfits and the Swans and Red Kross, and the audience came home feeling special. Swezey called the event Desolation Center, and the location was in fact about as desolate one can find.

Only three of these events took place but they set the stage for other remote concerts like Burning Man, Lollapalooza, and Coachella. We get performances from Sonic Youth, Minutemen, Redd Kross, Meat Puppets, Einstürzende Neubauten, and the Swans. None of the audio tracks are terribly clean, but what do you expect from vintage VHS technology? Swezey guides us through this post punk journey, and it’s one of those exciting things that worked, and can never be replicated. But best of all, the LAPD couldn’t bust them if they couldn’t find them.

Today everyone involved has grown up or died, that’s the price of rock and roll. The archival footage is a little rough but clear enough to give sense of what’s happening, and in the last show someone thoughtfully brought 800 hits of high-quality LSD. Try THAT today. Here’s some great punk nostalgia and a look a show that you probably weren’t cool enough to attend.

This film was presented as part of the 2019 Florida Film Festival sponsored by the Enzian Theater in Maitland, FL.

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