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MC5 – A True Testimonial

Finally - we all piled into The Other Cinema 1 in London’s West End last Tuesday for the much anticipated preview screening of “MC5 – A True Testimonial”. It may have been early doors (10am), but expectations were already reaching Dickensian proportions. 7 years in the making, which, as director David A Thomas pointed out in his introductory speech, is longer than the band were actually together for, “True Testimonial” is a labour of love: the love of the greatest rock & roll band in the history of the world.

The film opens with a Blair Witch style wander through the wrecked & dilapidated interior of The Grande Ballroom, Detroit, scene of the MC5’s greatest triumphs. The mood is grainy, the black & white images leave you in no doubt you are watching something of massive historical significance.

Brother Wayne Kramer acts as our host & linkman throughout the movie – The MC5 started with a fight. We learn the reasons why the band formed, their relationship with Detroit, how they chose their name & it’s significance. Rob Tyner (in an interview from 1988) is asked early on what he could have done if he hadn’t joined the 5:

“Armed robbery. Probably. Assault & battery. Possibly. I dunno.”

You kind of get the feeling he means it.

The story of The MC5 is one of the greatest ever told: from the band’s roots in the US garage punk explosion of 1964/5 via their earliest experiments in sonic attack (a early US TV clip of “Black To Comm” leaves the anchor man somewhat perplexed) to the peak of their Grande Ballroom excess – The MC5 were the first to take it out of the garage & translate it onto the big stage. These brothers were the business, they weren’t gonna take shit from boring West Coast folk fuckers or stuck in the past merchants – they were, quite simply, here to kick out the jams – MOTHERFUCKERS.

The shit the MC5 suffered at the hands of the police & the secret services throughout their association with John Sinclair & The White Panthers is etched into the lines of their faces. No rock & roll band has had to put up with so much front line pig hassle - before or since. The MC5 were looking at you looking at them. There were no precedents.

Via interviews, explosive live footage, newsreels & European archive TV reels, The MC 5 come to life again in front of your eyes. Transworld Energies, Sinclair & The White Panthers. Ann Arbor, The Stooges & Elektra. John Landau, “Back In The USA” & the UK. Sonic’s space suits & helmets. “High Times”, Derek Hughes & The MC3. 2 hours & 10 minutes of the finest rock & roll documentation I’ve ever witnessed. I felt wired throughout – it was a motherfucking revelation. Previously I’d only ever seen seconds of the 5 alive – I now feel as if I touched them all inside their heads – that’s how a good documentary SHOULD work, right?

The surviving MC5 members all bear the scars of their battles. Michael Davies appears gaunt, his face as old as time, skin like tanned leather. His eyes light with wonder as he recalls the magic of the times. His voice seems haunted by regret. Denis Thompson is the exact opposite. He repeatedly uses the word motherfucker with such glee. He still can’t believe it’s that big a deal. At one stage he responds to an off camera comment from the interviewer by levelling a gun to his head & stating: “I wish this was loaded”. Denis Thompson is a very scary man – we’d sure love to party with him some time, round at his place, obviously. Wayne Kramer comes on as a puppy by comparison. Not that I’d fuck with him, however. There is a wonderful shot at the end of the movie when you realise he has still not fully achieved closure over the MC5, & probably never will. They should’ve been bigger than The Rolling Stones.

The MC5 have mostly served hard jail time for their recreational substance abuse (as I’m sure I need not remind you, John Sinclair was jailed for the possession of a couple or 3 measly joints), a fact that should be remembered by every jumped up young rock band flaunting their extra-curricular recreational activities for the press. The MC5 suffered for you - & you & you & you & you & etc. It’s time to pay your dues. The game plan hasn’t altered radically & (in essence) the song STILL remains the same. As every 2 bit social commentator knows: it’s the singer, not the song.

Rob Tyner’s voice has never been bettered. Wayne Kramer’s footwork & fretwork have never been equalled. Sonic Smith’s vision & invention have not been paralleled. Michael Davis groundwork is still groundbreaking. Denis Thompson is possibly the meanest motherfucker to ever get behind a drum kit. That’s what The MC5 taught me. What are they going to do for you?

At the time of writing, “MC5 – A True Testimonial” still has no distribution deal in place. Details of an enhanced DVD release with an extra 30 minutes of out takes are mooted, but don’t hold your breath. If you love rock & roll you will hunt this film down wherever it may be showing.

Brothers & sisters, it takes 5 seconds to realise whether you are part of the problem or part of the solution. I want to hear some revolution out there, brothers & sisters. I give you a testimonial – I give you: The MC5.


Contact FNFilms for screening details –

Jean Encoule – – Nov 2002
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