Completed sometime in 2009 and screened at only two festivals since then, One Nine Nine Four is the Loch Ness Monster of rock docs. It’s had a notoriously difficult time securing clearances (and probably the hard cash to pay for) the dozens of songs scattered throughout its hour and twenty-one minute run time, leaving it impossible to officially release on DVD, Hulu or Netflix. After years of battling the powers that be to finish the movie legally, ”somebody” – who I would bet isn’t too far removed from frustrated writer/director Jai Al-Attas - has done the most punk thing possible and put the entire movie, unlicensed songs and all, on YouTube.
Has it been worth the wait?
Depends. As with every blurry photo of Nessie that emerges, fans will find something to love but most will probably remain unimpressed. The film’s interviews are its backbone and by far its biggest strength. Members of Blink 182, Green Day, The Offspring, NOFX, Operation Ivy, Rancid, Lagwagon, No Use for a Name, Bad Religion and others all pop up to recount the head-spinning rocket ride that launched a sound into the vacuum of Kurt Cobain’s death. It’s hard to not feel giddy as Dexter Holland (The Offspring) remembers his first brush with fame or when Tim Armstrong (Rancid) speaks with pride about how he’s never had to sell out – he and his friends just created what everyone wanted to hear.
Fletcher Dragge, guitarist of Pennywise, is a particular highlight. His dry sense of humor carries the film and his wonderfully thick, droll baritone presents some of the better stories. His recollection of how a single surf video served as the petri dish that birthed the hybrid subculture of punk rock and “extreme sports” is incredibly illuminating and serves as a stark counter to the choice of Tony Hawk as a narrator. The choice makes a certain kind of sense, but besides the fact that his voice is nasally, grating and often joyless, here’s a guy who’s profited immensely from the pairing Fletcher describes. I don’t doubt his love of the music and culture, but it seems a little strange crowning a byproduct of the scene its spokesperson.
As a film, One Nine Nine Four never quite finds its feet. The rise of pop punk from a legendary Gilman St. garage to the very top of mainstream radio is captured from the ground level in a mix of home video, concert films and MTV clips, but Al-Attas never quite knows what to do after Green Day. Neither did the genre, so maybe it’s intentional. Radio ska (Goldfinger, Less Than Jake, Mighty Mighty Bosstones) and its relationship to the scene is glossed over to get to the ascendance of Blink 182 and Green Day’s release of “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” two things that could and should have been given the critical eye of a Mass Extinction Event. Without the mega-gloss pop of Enema of the State and the syrupy strings of Green Day’s prom-and-graduation opus there would be no Dashboard Confessional, no Avril, no Fall Out Boy.
Instead the film comes to a sudden stop, solidifying it as a celebration of pop-punk and not an examination of it. It’s worth a watch and fans will skate away nostalgic, but everyone else might crave a clearer picture.