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Wake Up Punk review – erratic and insubstantial recounting of anarchist rebellion

Nigel Askew’s indulgent documentary has bold intentions but it ultimately fails to realise any of the promise of its lead premise

Wake Up Punk sets out to chart the rise, relevance, and legacy of punk from its conception in the ‘70s to the modern day by asking: what is punk? A mindset? A style? A rebellious way of life? Nigel Askew’s documentary begins as an enlightening exploration before losing sight of its original purpose and veers into the realm of the self-indulgent. The result is an erratic and insubstantial recounting of anarchist rebellion that just falls flat.

The film starts with its most obvious draw: the legendary Vivienne Westwood. She’s sat with her two sons, Joe Corré and Ben Westwood, at a table overflowing with newspaper scraps, vintage pieces, and protest banners as memories and anecdotes of their involvement in the punk movement are passed back and forth. Beyond this room, though, the documentary finds very little worthy of spotlighting. In illuminating this artistic and political subculture, appropriately tackling the subsequent corporate commodification of the punk movement becomes too big a task.

The film revolves around Corré’s inflammatory promise, or threat, to set alight punk memorabilia valued at five million pounds in protest of the commercialisation of punk and to prevent these items from ever appearing as part of museum collections. It’s a personal mission for Corré, who has blood in the game, while the legacy of his late father is clearly a driving force.

But every time Askew’s doc feels like it’s heading towards a personal place there is a restraint that prevents that intimacy from appearing on screen. The familiarity and indulgence in Corré can be explained by the fact Askew is his long-time creative partner. The unwavering focus reveals very little of the punk movement beyond Corré’s orbit, a choice that fails to bring any wider perspective of punk to the documentary.

In the film’s final act, Corré proclaims he doesn’t actually want to talk about punk but climate change and extinction. Delivered so late, the statement has the effect of making the entirety of Wake Up Punk feel pointless. The film is also weighed down throughout by a laborious and wholly unnecessary Dickensian subplot of young, soot-covered children uniting to overthrow their workhouse boss. It is as misplaced as it sounds. Watching these young actors deliver painfully forced lines about socio-economic injustices results in overtly expository scenes that are completely dispensable.

The documentary subjects don’t have the driving presence to sustain attention and for a film so enticed by anti-establishment anarchy, Wake Up Punk is just too rigid and conventional. As a debut documentary, it had the promise of astute commentary, but this fails to appear beyond the first act, resulting in a nebulous concept that escapes even the filmmaker.

Wake Up Punk is released in UK cinemas from 6 May.

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