Moby might not be the first person you would imagine to direct a film about vegan punks but he provides a banging soundtrack and speaks from the heart. The Punk Rock Vegan Movie documentary had its world premiere at the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival on January 20 in Park City, Utah. (And the movie is now streaming for free on YouTube – head below to watch!) So, does it work? Well, it’s turned me veggie again so thank you Moby. It’s also his directorial debut and it’s not a bad start.
Any film that exposes cruelty to animals, from the 1981 Animals Film to Andrea Arnold’s Cow (2021) runs the risk of kicking the butcher in the pocket, and rightly so, but this film takes a different path that is both educational in animal welfare and as an alternative history of punk.
Comic interludes of Moby talking to Bagel the dog or playing the Devil in a mock news report punctuate a multitude of interviews with punk figures, old and new, famous and infamous, from both sides of the Atlantic.
The focus here is on Straight Edge, a subgenre that started in the early ’80s as a drug and booze-free movement amongst the punk contingent and eventually embraced veganism and animal rights.
Highlights such as Rob Zombie hanging out with his pet goat make us realise that these wild men (and occasional women) of punk, may not be as unhinged as their stage antics would suggest, and that despite the apparent spit and venom of their being, there is a heart.
Members of Jane’s Addiction, Bad Brains, The Dead Kennedys, The Damned and The Membranes, and many more, come together to share their experiences of life on the road, battling against carnivores on the way, folks who are not yet educated in veggie cuisine, in one case serving a chicken casserole to members of Crass, presuming that’s an ok alternative to meat. Better still, the café that served a naked bun and called it a veggie burger.
If the stories don’t get you, the visuals will. The killer blow for me was the image of a fully grown carcass of a pig, left to rot, hanging out of a wheelie bin. The sheer disrespect shown here for a sentient being is unbearable. Juxtaposed with a saccharine image of baby pigs, frolicking in a meadow, the message is driven home with a sledgehammer. Repeated images of factory chickens unable to function on a basic level, limping around or lying helpless waiting to be gassed or hooked onto a production line killing machine become more sickening with each new shot. Lingering shots of their weary eyes go straight to the heart.
Almost as effective are the images of animal rights activists hugging cows and pigs and seeing the love in their eyes. On numerous occasions the contrast between the welfare of cats and dogs with livestock makes us consider the hypocrisy of our relationship with living creatures. Watching the film with my cats on my knee made it an even more guilty viewing.
On a base level, the film succeeds by showing that vegans are not all tree-hugging hippies, they can just as easily be the wildest punks on the planet, and in fairness, why wouldn’t they be?
My only real criticism of the film is that the message is delivered in the first hour and the views become quite repetitive, I feel more actual information about the meat industry, rather than opinions may have added an edge and contextualised the content. That said I felt I learned about the Straight Edge movement and regained my status as a vegetarian by the end, so my criticisms are probably not worth airing.
There is a bizarre dramatic coda following the end credits that adds a little extra horror to proceedings.
I challenge you not to be touched by Moby’s crusade and if it moves people enough to give up meat and dairy then he has succeeded. It’s a well-timed release too with the endless choices of vegan cuisine on supermarket shelves, making the move to plant-based diets exciting rather than a chore.
Moby we salute you.
Starring: Ian Mackaye, HR, Dave Navarro, Ray Cappo, Andrew Hurley & many more
Production Company: Little Walnut Productions
Distributed by: Slamdance Channel
Release Date: 2023 (USA)
Run Time: 91 minutes