Desolation Center

Oct 8, 2019

A satisfying history lesson about punk and its challenging music.

Desolation Center

Grade: B

Director: Stuart Swezey

Screenplay: Documentary

Runtime: 1 hr 33 min

By: John DeSando

“To me, punk rock is the freedom to create, freedom to be successful, freedom to not be successful, freedom to be who you are. It's freedom.” Patti Smith

For anyone who knows my interest in classical music and tuneful pop, that I know virtually nothing about punk rock is no surprise. Moreover, I was a productive adult in those 80’s but oblivious to the power and eccentricity of a music that made, and still does, an impact on our culture, like rap.

In Desolation Center, director Stuart Swezey surveys the punk scene with truncated performances in desert, city, and waterside, allowing for a variety and oddity of spectacle, from blasting guns to blazing fires, and all about the romance of rebellion. To say I knew not one song is to belabor the point that performance shows were as much the point as original, sometimes inscrutable, music.

It seems just short of odd to me that I know the names of the punk groups and not their songs: Minuteman, Savage Republic, Einstruzende Neubauten, Sonic Youth, Meat Puppets, et al. It’s the opera of the scene more than the music, from my limited experience.

The original footage of the events and the bands alone make this documentary worth seeing. The excessive talking heads, oh well, keep us from more music.

This has been a most entertaining year with docs like Linda Ronstadt: the sound of my voice and docudramas like Rocket Man. Desolation Center introduces rubes like me to more music, creativity, and cacophony than I ever could have known on my own. For the music obsessed, see this to round out your obsession; for those like me interested in the history of music, this is required listening no matter how challenging the sound might be.  

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at