Looking back at the fleeting career of the Netherland’s first punk rock band.
PANIC was a Dutch punk band, active between 1976 and 1978, who no one outside Holland has heard of (unless you are really into generic punk bands), whose career came to a sudden halt when they sang a song about German philosopher and Nazi Martin Heidegger that ends with Hermann Goering declaring his innocence at the Nuremberg War Crimes trials – perhaps pushing that 1970s punk fascination/provocation with Nazi symbolism a bit too far (that’s the kind interpretation). It cost them a record deal at least, and in true punk fashion, they then packed it all in rather than struggle on.
Duco Donk’s film – very much a singular vision, given that he directs, produces, edits, sound designs and production designs – is made up of archive footage, which rather exposes the limitations of a project like this – there’s just not that much material out there. So we get the entirety of a 1978 show in Gouda, notable for frontman Peter Penthouse – who unfortunately looks less the skinny punk waster and more like a man experiencing Roid Rage, with his six-pack and angry face – performing in skimpy stars ‘n’ stripes-decorated budgie-smugglers in front of a rather excitable audience who often seem to be making their own fun with some mild vandalism and drenching the band with fire extinguishers. The stage show is unquestionably chaotic, but it’s already looking more like jolly japes and people following fashion than authentic anarchy. There are snippets of home movies from the band’s brief visit to CBGBs and some backstage stuff (amusingly showing the band’s frontman, a few moments after swaggering around on stage, sheepishly fixing a broken toilet after receiving a tongue-lashing from the furious, take-no-prisoners female venue boss), but it’s all very slight.
Despite narration from someone credited as Louise Dunne, but sounding suspiciously male (but who are we to impose gender definitions, eh?) and even more suspiciously like a Malcolm McClaren impersonator voicing their own half-baked Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle – which at least is in keeping with the second-rate copycatting shown on screen, as the narration attempts to paint PANIC as being at the cutting edge of punk. Sadly, the story that we get from this film is so brief that it is hard to see them as anything more than one of many third-rate Damned imitators, copycat punks already revelling in the cliches that quickly swamped the movement. Perhaps if the film had interviewed the former members – all of whom still seem to be around – and made even a token effort to be an actual documentary rather than a slightly extended performance video, then there might be something here. After all, it’s entirely possible to make worthwhile documentaries about bands who never went anywhere – these are often more interesting stories than the oft-told tales of the big-name successes. But this film lacks any sort of ambition, so all we have is the comically posturing stage show of a band who, at their peak, only seen to have attracted less than a hundred people to their show, half of whom seem to get bored after a few songs.
At one point, Peter Penthouse sings “I am very, very, very, very bad”, and it’s hard not to agree. PANIC are amusing for one song, and then wear out their welcome with consummate ease. There’s amusing chaos on stage at the start, but it all quickly becomes very generic – fun, perhaps, if you have a soft spot for the also-rans, imitators and bandwagon-jumpers of the ’77 era but otherwise rather throwaway. The same could be said of this documentary (and I feel reluctant to even call this a documentary) – Dutch punks of a certain age and archivists of the movement might get a nostalgic kick out of it, but I doubt anyone else is going to come away from this feeling newly informed of anything beyond the fact that this band existed, and the chances of many viewers going on to seek out PANIC’s recorded oeuvre – brief as it is – seems slight.
Help support The Reprobate: