The Last Pogo was a documentary, made and released in 1978, about the supposed “last ever punk show” at The Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. It’s easy to laugh about it 25 years later. I’ve been to many a punk gig at the ‘Shoe and hope to attend many more. Back in 1978, punk gigs were violent enough that the ‘Shoe were serious about banning punk bands. The Last Pogo Jumps Again is an in-depth look at the scene that spawned that infamous final concert, with original filmmaker Colin Brunton at the helm, along with Kire Paputts.
Just how in-depth it was, I had no idea. The documentary is three and a half hours long, and is clearly a labour of love for Brunton, who was on hand and chatting with attendees in the lobby on the night that I saw it. He is clearly in love with every interview and every sound bite. I get that. I’ve interviewed a lot of people in my time and I know what it’s like to talk to someone who is articulate and passionate about something that I love. Good filmmaking however, like good writing, is as much about good editing as it is about good storytelling, and editing is what The Last Pogo Jumps Again badly needed.
The film could easily have been an hour shorter. By the end, many of the interviewees were repeating themselves, and I also felt that a disproportionate amount of the film was devoted to The Viletones. There is no question that The Viletones, led by Steven “Nazi Dog” Leckie, were influential, notorious and talented. Having Nirvana cover one of your songs is nothing to sneer at. Earlier this year, Bob Mould (Husker Du, Sugar) ended his show by inviting guest vocalist Sam Sutherland, author of Perfect Youth: The Birth of Canadian Punk, onstage to cover The Viletones’ “Screaming Fist”. The Viletones played at the legendary CBGB’s in New York City and definitely helped put Toronto’s punk scene on the map. It just grew a bit wearying when, no matter how many other bands were interviewed and profiled, the focus always swung back to yet more footage of The Viletones and present-day interviews with Steven Leckie complaining that he’s a misunderstood genius.
On the plus side, there is a lot of great music in this film. Some bands I was already familiar with, like The Forgotten Rebels, Teenage Head, The Diodes and The Demics. Other bands were a pleasant surprise, like The Curse, an all female punk band that spit and snarled with the best of them. Interviewed today, the band members are sharp, savvy and funny, and I would love to see them reunite and record an album. All that remains of their legacy is a controversial 7″ called “Shoeshine Boy”, about the 1978 murder of Emmanuel Jacques.
The film is also one hell of a heady trip through a time in Toronto that I heard about but was a few years too young to take part in. I heard all about The Beverly Tavern, The Crash ‘n Burn and The Roxy. Is possible to feel wistful about events you never attended? Because that’s how I felt watching the footage from shows at those clubs. There’s the usual amount of bitching from the surviving punk veterans that punk these days sucks, but Joey Shithead from DOA wisely points out the dangers of waxing nostalgic about how it was all better back in the day. There were plenty of shitty bands back then, he reminds us, and there are good bands working now.
There’s a great quote near the end of the film from someone whose name I can’t recall – he pointed out that what often gets dismissed as nostalgia is a genuine and meaningful desire to revisit and re-examine something that was meaningful to a lot of people. We can’t escape the things that shape us.
So is the film worth watching? Absolutely, when you can watch it at your own pace. I’d throw it on at a party, crank it up and give everyone a raucous and irreverent history lesson.