‘Don’t Break Down’ A Film About Jawbreaker At The Vista, Thursday October 5th 2017
Somehow, the band Jawbreaker has always escaped my radar, they are described as one of the most influential American punk bands, but I had never seen them or even listened to them. ‘Don’t Break Down’ is the new documentary about Jawbreaker directed by Tim Irwin and Keith Schieron, and I attended a screening of the movie at the Vista theater on night Thursday night, when vocalist and guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach and drummer Adam Pfahler showed up for a short Q&A after the film. The story is that of many bands, and the film makes a classic narration: young men met at school, form a band, release albums while their band becomes more successful, but when they are almost the next big thing (they toured with Nirvana and signed to a big label), internal tensions occur and the unavoidable breakup follows. 11 years later they reconnect, and have reunited to headline the Riot Fest in Chicago this year.
The movie tells the story through interviews of the three members and famous musicians or other personalities of the music business (Billy Joe Armstrong, Steve Albini, Jessica Hopper, Graham Elliot, Chris Shifflet, Josh Caterer,…) as well as footages of concerts. Many other movies and biopic have been there before and the formula is a classic. As Blake, Chris and Adam explain their points of views and songwriting process through the movie, we enter little by little in their story, but honestly, if you are not familiar with the band and their music (as I was) it soon becomes an endless series of talking heads with many jokes along the way, plenty of music and many short stories inside the main story. Any Jawbreaker fan will probably find more appeal and be much more passionate and interested by the movie than I was, as, not once, I got the feeling I should have loved and got interested by the band when they existed, even though they all appeared to be very loveable guys.
Jawbreaker the movie doesn’t have even a dramatic story, the three members seem to get along fine these days, their story does not have a real drama, nor terrible fight and drug addiction, so the attraction to the story mostly relies in the likable characters and Blake Schwarzenbach’s charisma – he is the lyricist and his strong personality was probably one of the factors why they desbanded in the first place. As for the music, they were supposed to be the missing link between Nirvana and Green Day as Billy Joe Armstrong says at the beginning of the movie, and their pop punk sound with furious power chords is often regarded as a major influence for emo and post hardcore bands. Although they were navigating between these genres, they said after the movie they didn’t even know what emo means until later.
But whether you call them emo, hardcore, emo-core, pop punk, the movie doesn’t really go beyond the simple narration, a band breaks up and a band reforms … It also doesn’t really say why they decided to reconnect 11 years later, ‘It’s all we can do,’ they said during the Q&A, as if reforming the band was the only thing that they could do to avoid boredom? Sure there is a true passion for music, songwriting and performance, all the talking in the movie is about this, and I am not saying they are only doing this for monetarization reasons, but disappearing for 11 years and showing again is always a good way to bring attention. I can confirm that the Riot fest was not a one-time performance, Blake Schwarzenbach and Adam Pfahler also said they would play again and even would write new material, new songs… which triggered a big clapping from the crowd. 11 years were not that long after all.