The Last Pogo
Dir. Colin Brunton
The Last Pogo attacks, destroys, and evades in less than half an hour, with the fury of blitzkrieg. That’s just enough time for the pizza shop to make it to your door with its greasy wares. It’s the length of your average sitcom. You can finish a career placement test in the time it takes to devour this miniature piece of Toronto punk history.
And it’s the quick runtime that blocks The Last Pogo from reaching the pinnacle of the musical documentary form. Rather than mimic the speed of the bands it chronicles, the film would have done better to cram itself full of self-congratulations to allow us access into a scene that, to the outside world, means little. Of course, the film was shot in 1978, and director Colin Brunton was working on a budget of nothing, so the small amount of footage he was able to cobble together to form The Last Pogo shouldn’t be held against him.
In these 26 minutes, The Last Pogo is a masterful disaster-piece. Capturing the last hurrah of club promoters Gary Topp and Gary Cormier as they said farewell to The Horseshoe Tavern -- the show was billed as "the last punk rock concert" -- the film depicts a time when nothing was sacred and nihilism meant everything. Seven of Toronto’s grimiest bands showcased their talent in small bursts amid a crowd of polite, yet boiling Canadian punks — the sort of audience that British and American punks alike would have viewed as alien. Concert footage is anchored by brief interviews with the bands and venue staff, and it’s these fleeting glimpses of the people behind the scene that provide the real heart of The Last Pogo.
While, today, the aged punks of yesteryear are happy to talk up their brilliance and relevance to anyone who will listen, the young bucks of The Last Pogo live for the here and now. We never have to endure their “back in my day” lectures. They are forever captured in The Last Pogo’s time capsule as the snot-nosed, ignorant, and piss-and-vinegar youth who despise what they don’t know and shun what they don’t understand. For a fleeting moment, they are the kings of a mountain of garbage, but it’s their mountain and it’s their garbage.
As for the garbage itself, many of the Toronto bands resemble The Ramones, The Clash, and The Kinks. But what's truly fascinating is how the crowds and bands absorb the music. It’s almost like watching a National Geographic documentary about ’70s teen punks in their habitat -- that is, until the ego of The Viletones disrupts an audience that would rather sit and listen than stage a coup; it’s a wild scene to watch, as a few teens politely dance while most of the revelers are content to sit in the over-crowded club and observe what's going on, as if they know this is the beginning of the end. But The Last Pogo hinges upon the provocation of The Viletones. The vocalist’s attempt to be Canada’s Johnny Rotten is evident in the band's all-too-brief appearance, and it’s his love of stirring shit up that leads to Teenage Head’s one-song finale before the cops shut it all down, with the once-subdued crowd beginning to tear the place apart.
Unfortunately, Brunton was out the door before the rampage engulfed Horseshoe Tavern, and all we see is the empty wasteland of broken chairs, tables, and bottles. The Last Pogo builds up to the blow up, but we never see it. For all the glimpses we’re given into a scene many never knew, it's upsetting that we don't get to witness the implosion on that December night in 1978. What's left, however, is 26 minutes of fun concert footage and an urge to scour the internet in search of the good music Toronto’s punk scene left behind, a prerequisite before Brunton's next film, The Last Pogo Jumps Again, which attempts to document the fates of the 500+ people that were there.