I hadn’t heard of Hard Core Logo until I was researching films for this week’s Canadiana-Rama. It hasn’t been on any of the viewing lists I’ve ever seen about rock-docs, hasn’t been mentioned by any of the Canadian film makers I (admittedly only half-) follow, I don’t even remember seeing it at the video store when those still existed, which seems absurd to me now as it melds concepts from two of my favourite movies, This Is: Spinal Tap and FUBAR. Not being especially plugged into the punk or hardcore scenes might have led to this ignorance but looking back now I really have no excuse, and now that you’re reading this neither do you. Hard Core Logo is a great little indie flick that also happens to be Canadian.
I tried to figure out exactly what made it stand out to me and I think I can narrow it down to the same reasons Spinal Tap and FUBAR have been so successful: It’s got authentic characters with some serious personality issues who are none the less relatable. Taking from the Spinal Tap vein, these characters who are idolized as Gods on stage are eating, shitting, spitting mortals off stage and are rife with shortcomings that would make even Joey Shithead blush. In this day and age of celebrity where everyone’s dirty laundry is aired through social media it’s easy to forget that just 20 years ago you could get away with all kinds of outrageous lies with just a little confidence. The two protagonists (or antagonists? It’s hard to say) Joe Dick and Billy Tallent have lived the punk rock lifestyle for so long that they have become almost a parody of it. However, since their fan base buys the product of human beings fighting, spitting in each others faces and generally behaving in the most anti-social of manners, they’ve been caught in a positive feed-back loop and have been rewarded for their miscreant behaviour. They are caught in a black hole, unable to pull back or slow down their ever worsening behaviour, heading for an inevitable (and fortuitously filmed) messy ending.
Dick and Tallent have a troubled relationship. Both obviously talented in their own right and living breathing hard core punks they are the classic trope of two buddies that grew up and got famous together, are completely co-dependant without realizing it, and express that codependence by reviling each other. In much the same way David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel jump between love and hate in Spinal Tap, Dick and Tallent can’t survive without each other and continuously test each others limits. They play a game of rock and roll chicken where both men push each others buttons until one snaps. Like brothers stuck in a car on a never ending road trip, they need to be apart and fail alone to realize their success comes when they are a pair.
Without a doubt, the most fun part of the movie is the absurd hijinks the band get up to over the course of their tour. Where Spinal Tap highlighted a friendship based on a musical relationship, Dick and Tallent appear to have loved the hard core lifestyle first and fell into music. They were punks and assholes to everyone and each other first, and it just so happened that they were musicians and found success that way. They could just have easily ended up junkies relying on each other to get a fix and their behaviour wouldn’t have been the slightest bit different. In this aspect, they share a similar blue-collar mentality towards partying as Terry Cahill and Dean Murdoch from FUBAR. The music abets their lifestyle, rather than dictates it. As the budget was clearly constrained, we have to make due with expository dialogue to learn about the bulk of what happens on the tour, but this mystery adds to the legend of Hard Core Logo (the band) over the course of the movie. Even their fans can’t seem to figure out what’s real and what’s not.
The most successful application of pathos occurs when Dick considers an existence without Tallent. Much like when Terry faces life without Dean in his cancer scare, Dick flashes from anger to sorrow and all points in between when faced with the loss of his closest relationship. It’s one thing to have a strong friendship, but to face the realization that not only will you find yourself without a best friend, but that you lose a lot of your own identity with them is hard to come to grips with and something that many of us have faced – either in our platonic relationships or romantic ones. A mockumentary requires its characters to be believable, human, and interesting – three aspects that can be difficult to balance but Hard Core Logo succeeds here. The characters are fully fleshed out and not just stereotypes or ideas. We can watch the guys transform on stage, then return to their shitty selves once they finish their set, and as they transition we see the human behind the mohawk, tattoos and piercings. Too often with Rock-docs we are given a pedestalized ideal of a rock star, not the human they are. Hard Core Logo flips that, almost seeking to diminish what’s on-stage by showing the shitty human beings they are off-stage.
Hard Core Logo is a great movie on a few levels. It’s good to watch with some friends and a couple of beers, as on the surface it’s a good road trip movie with some ridiculous rock ‘n’ roll shenanigans. It’s also good to watch a little more closely as there is some surprisingly good acting throughout (including one mans slow descent into schizophrenia). It’s also good to watch to remind us why we should strive to have strong relationships with our friends, but to maintain a sense of identity separate from anyone else, so that as things change and people move on from our lives we can take the parts of them that made us better and let go of the parts that hold us back.