Nightclubbing: The Birth of Punk Rock in NYC review – where the party started

The scuzziness, excitement and history-making music of 70s club Max’s Kansas City thunders through Danny Garcia’s nostalgic documentary

On the site of what is now a Fraiche Maxx deli on Park Avenue South stood one of New York’s most legendary venues: Max’s Kansas City. In the late 1960s and 70s it became the key hangout and centre of glam rock and then punk, with all sorts of celebs and artists and notables showing up – including, of course, Andy Warhol, the Zelig of so many different American artistic zeitgeists. Danny Garcia’s documentary even says that Federico Fellini went there, too, but gives no details, and incidentally leaves untouched the mystery of how it got the name.

Max’s was legendary for the music, the drugs, the fights, the scuzziness, the excitement, the horrific lavatories. The great rival club CBGB outlived it by decades but Max’s seems to have as great a place in the Valhalla of music memory. Garcia has some great new footage and live material to show that the bands that were playing night after night, including New York Dolls, Iggy Pop, the Ramones, Bruce Springsteen and Alice Cooper, were pretty amazing. There is also some very entertaining interview material, particularly with the acid Jayne County who should be brought over to the UK to appear on Celebrity Gogglebox immediately.

It’s another film to leave you sighing over New York’s lost 70s heyday of gritty reality and creativity and danger. And just as with Matt Tyrnauer’s recent documentary about Studio 54, it touches delicately on a subject that another type of director, taking a different approach, might make the entire purpose of the film: the link between clubs and crime. There were dark rumours about a counterfeit money operation happening in the basement, involving one-time owner Tommy Dean Mills: bleaching $1 bills plain white, then photocopying $100 bills using the new generation of Xerox machines. What is the truth behind that anecdote? Whatever it is … those were the days.

• This article was amended on 5 August 2022. The shop now on the site of Max’s Kansas City is a deli, not a pharmacy as stated in an earlier version.

• Nightclubbing: The Birth of Punk Rock in NYC is released on 5 August in cinemas.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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