Turn it Around: The Story of East Bay Punk is a love letter to punk rock. More specifically, it’s a heartfelt look at the East Bay scene, Gilman Street, and what made them so special. Directed by Corbett Redford and Green Day serving as executive producers, the film is about the bands and community East Bay produced, along with the infamous all ages venue, 924 Gilman Street. Narrated by Iggy Pop, it starts with a brief evolution of punk from its UK origins to its explosion stateside. We shift gears to San Francisco further following punk as it evolved to hardcore, punk metal, and pop punk. It doesn’t take long for chaos to ensue with the onslaught of violence and drug abuse. The next generation of punks wanted something different, somewhere to call home where they could be safe. Tim Yohannan answered the call with Gilman Street.
Because of the near three hour length, it feels like nothing is left untouched. This isn’t a film that only highlights big moments and bands in punk rock. Instead, it’s an in-depth look at the scene, the people involved, and those who helped nurture it, like Wes Robinson, Tim Yohannan, Aaron Cometbus, and Dirk Dirksen. We travel through the different East Bay areas, like Rodeo, Albany, and Berkley, examining the culture and the bands it bred.
The film hits as many points as possible, making it more detailed and satisfying than most rock docs. And there’s never a dull moment. Whether it’s the rough, archival footage or the crude, yet entertaining animations sprinkled throughout, there’s always something to keep your eyes glued to the screen. We also get insights and personal stories from a large roster of artists, including Fat Mike (NOFX), Davey Havok (AFI), Tim Armstrong (Rancid), Jesse Michaels (Operation Ivy), Larry Livermore (The Lookouts), and Green Day to name a few. Not only do we get to hear from the bands involved, we also hear from punk fans and those who volunteered at Gilman showing they played a part in the scene as much as the bands did.
At the heart of the film is the rise of 924 Gilman Street. In the past, we’ve only heard about Gilman Street via Green Day, arguably the biggest band to come from the scene. Instead, we get the definitive history of the club: how founder Tim Yohannan started it as safe space for punks, the abrupt shutdown in 1988, and how the community brought it back to life. The smiles that burst from people as they share fond memories of the club prove how special it is. This isn’t just another small venue for punk shows; it was a place to call home. It was a safe place for people of all ages, genders, and races to come together, have a good time, and forget about the world outside for a little bit. Thanks to this film, Gilman finally has an identity that goes beyond the place that birthed Green Day.
One thing becomes clear when watching the film: the sense of community and diversity that runs through this scene. Gilman attracted women, people of different races, and the queer community – all of which are featured and often don’t receive enough representation in similar films. Listening to fans, musicians, and founders talk about the scene and Gilman at length lets their love for the community shine through. The adulation they show to East Bay bands, volunteers, and founders show the air of respect they have for each other. They’re not just bands, they’re friends as well. The sheer love for Gilman is still there. To make sure they don’t get too nostalgic, they’ll point out issues with the scene, like skinheads or butting heads with Gilman’s politics, but they still have nothing for love for it and one another.
What’s refreshing about the film is the multitude of obscure bands highlighted. Going into the film, viewers will most likely not know about Crimpshine, Soup, The Yeastie Girls, Neurosis, Blatz and Sweet Baby Jesus. Not only do they share their history, no matter how brief, we get to hear their music as well. It would’ve been easy for Redford to highlight the well-known musicians to get more people to watch, especially since Green Day is involved. The film either could’ve focused entirely on them or try to tip toe around them completely. Instead, they get the right amount of screen time and are not the focus of the film. It’s acknowledged they are part of the scene but doesn’t pretend that it started and ended with them. Though it’s interesting to note their infamous “ban” is never mentioned.
Turn It Around: The Story of East Bay Punk is an honest look at a scene that’s still being kept alive from these musicians and everyone currently involved with Gilman Street. At times it’s funny, other times it’s heartbreaking, but in the end, it’s inspiring. Thinking how the scene started with bored kids who just wanted to play music for the love of it, makes you want to go out and start your own garage band, hoping to capture that something that makes East Bay punk so special.