Doc Talk | Peter keough

Punk, rock, opera screenings — and ‘Jesus’ revisited

A scene from Lech Kowalski’s 1980 documentary, “D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage.”
A scene from Lech Kowalski’s 1980 documentary, “D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage.”

Periods of extreme social and political disruption — like today — often engender significant cultural movements. Both sides of the Atlantic in the late 1970s saw economic downturns, inadequate leadership, and general ennui, and the malaise spawned punk rock, epitomized by the exultant nihilism of the Sex Pistols

Now considered a cult classic, Lech Kowalski’s documentary “D.O.A. — A Rite of Passage” (1980) follows the anarchic band on their chaotic and disastrous 1978 US tour and employs an exhilarating jump-cut style that feeds on the energy of the subject. It includes volatile live performances of songs like “God Save the Queen” and “Anarchy in the U.K.” and jarring backstage interviews with a semi-conscious Sid Vicious and his carping girlfriend Nancy Spungen, scenes that evoke “Spinal Tap” (1984) and prove that Alex Cox was not exaggerating about the doomed couple in “Sid and Nancy” (1986).

Kowalski also focuses on other stars in the punk scene, with live songs by the Dead Boys, Generation X with Billy Idol, the X-Ray Spex, and others, and as an added treat intercuts risible comments by a smug, Monty Python-esque British Upper-Class twit. 


“D.O.A. — A Rite of Passage” screens Friday through Dec. 3 at the Brattle.

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The Wight stuff

If you plan to catch “D.O.A.,” you might want to complement it with a viewing of Murray Lerner’s documentary “Blue Wild Angel: Jimi Hendrix Live at the Isle of Wight” (2004) in which the rock guitar icon performs the original, national anthem version of “God Save the Queen.” In addition, you will get to see rare live recordings of Hendrix’s “Dolly Dagger,” “Freedom,” “Machine Gun,” and many of his other hits performed in front of over 600,000 at the Isle of Wight Festival on Aug. 31, 1970. 

The film screens on Monday at 7:30 p.m. at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, commemorating what would have been Hendrix’s 75th birthday (he died at 27 of a drug overdose on Sept. 18, less than three weeks after the festival). 

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Tenor of the times


Perhaps you are not a big fan of punk rock or Jimmy Hendrix. Perhaps opera is more your style. Long before the Three Tenors, the subject of Alan Byron’s documentary “Mario Lanza: The Best of Everything” was a vocal sensation, playing to sellout crowds and starring in several films — including his 1951 hit, “The Great Caruso,” in which he played the title role. Included in this profile of the singer are interviews, archival footage, and performances of songs ranging from “Ave Maria” to “Drink! Drink! Drink!” Lanza’s short life was operatic as well; he died of a heart attack at 38 in 1959.

“Mario Lanza: The Best of Everything” is available on Tuesday on DVD for $24.95.

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The end is Nye

Many of those now pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) were inspired by the educational antics of the title host of the 1990s PBS series “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”


Jason Sussberg and David Alvarado’s documentary “Bill Nye: Science Guy” checks in on what the nerd icon is up to these days. Among his ongoing projects are a campaign against anti-science evangelicals and climate change deniers and a position as the CEO of the Planetary Society, an organization founded by his mentor, the late Carl Sagan. 

The documentary also discloses illuminating facts about Nye’s private life and his early background while highlighting his wry, sometimes goofy sense of humor.

“Bill Nye: Science Guy” screens from Friday through Dec. 7 at the Brattle.

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ICE age

The plague of opioid addiction has dominated our attention, but the scourge of methamphetamine abuse never went away and is getting worse. Brent and Craig Renaud’s documentary “Meth Storm” shows the devastating impact of a new, lethal form of the drug called ICE, smuggled into the US by Mexican cartels who target poor people in rural communities. The film puts the problem in vivid relief by focusing on the victims’ personal stories and the tension-filled efforts of law enforcement agencies to stop the traffic.

“Meth Storm” airs Monday at 10 p.m. on HBO, and is available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand, and affiliate portals.

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In the footsteps
of Jesus

In 1977, Robert Powell played the title role in the acclaimed miniseries “Jesus of Nazareth.” Forty years later, in Nigel Levy’s documentary “The Real Jesus of Nazareth, the actor returns to modern Israel to visit places where Christ’s story unfolded.

There he interviews historians, archeologists, and theologians to track down the historical facts behind the biblical version — as well as the one he acted in.

“The Real Jesus of Nazareth” is available on DVD on Tuesday for $19.99.

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Peter Keough can be reached at