D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage is an odd, messy documentary that’s primarily about the Sex Pistols’ ill-fated tour of the United States and some of what was still going on in the UK punk scene at the crosspoint before it became what is now considered post-punk. The film was essentially funded by the drug-smuggling of radical journalist Tom Forcade, who is best known for founding the still-going marijuana magazine High Times. He’s somebody who rebelled against the Yippies because they endorsed George McGovern for president in 1972, then formed the even more radical Zippers, and was the first documented person to pie somebody as a form of political protest. Forcade was also into the burgeoning punk rock scene, and was a big fan of the Detroit proto-punk of The Stooges and MC5. He would, however, not see the finished film, because he committed suicide during the production.
The majority of the footage is of the aforementioned Sex Pistols tour, where the band played redneck bars in the South and midwest instead of the obvious New York or L.A., at the urging of their manager Malcolm McLaren. The most cosmopolitan place they played was the final date in San Francisco. By this point the band members all hated each other, and the band would split up shortly after. Anybody who was at that gig knows the support band, San Francisco’s Avengers, blew them off the stage. The SF gig was the only gig on the tour that was fully filmed, but by the local crew from Target Video. There is some footage here from that gig, but from a different angle than the more widely seen Target footage: the infamous “Do you ever get the feeling you been cheated?” is not in D.O.A. The majority of the Sex Pistols footage was shot clandestinely, without permission from manager/record label/venue, so that’s why there are only snippets at times. It’s all they could shoot till they got thrown out.
The non-Pistols footage of other bands features basically the bands they could get access to. There is a little bit of The Clash and Iggy Pop, but not much. There is some wonderful footage of early Generation X (Billy Idol’s band) doing “Kiss Me Deadly,” plus X-Ray Spex doing the immortal “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” Besides the Pistols, the band with the most footage are Sham 69, who would shape the whole street punk sound but were a far better and smarter band than any of those comedy punk bands. Perhaps more interesting is a bunch of footage of The Rich Kids, who are pretty much forgotten now but were the band Sex Pistol Glen Matlock formed after he was kicked out. The Rich Kids included Midge Ure and were a year ahead of their time, because they were essentially a mod revival band, the mod revival wouldn’t get into full swing until the year after they imploded. The Jam were there since the start of punk, but it wasn’t till 1978/79 that you would get the bands they influenced, like Secret Affair or The Chords.
The film includes some interviews, but mostly featuring pundits talking about the US gigs and some others. The bands themselves don’t have much screen time: the longest interview is probably the infamous one with Nancy Spungen and Sid Vicious completely strung out, where Sid falls asleep on camera. It’s messy, but it contains some invaluable footage of the Pistols and the other bands, plus the interview footage is laugh out loud funny at times. It doesn’t go much into the US punk scenes, except for some excellent footage of the Dead Boys doing “Sonic Reducer.” Otherwise, most of the New York bands get a mentioned in a scene with a record shop clerk.
The disc includes a new making-of documentary, which is even longer than the finished film itself. It goes into an insane amount of detail about the making of the film. The other feature on the disc is an interview with the co-director and journalist Chris Salewicz. The first 2000 copies include a booklet by Tim Murry and Phelim O’Neill.