Wake Up Punk — hesitant hymn to the spirit of angry nonconformity


The Sex Pistols credit card was launched by Virgin Money in 2015. One design featured the artwork for their debut single “Anarchy in the UK”, another the cover of their album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. For the punk true believer, things only got worse the following year, the subculture’s 40th anniversary attracting a Museum of London retrospective supported by then mayor Boris Johnson.

Arson was perhaps to be expected. The job fell to Joe Corré, son of late Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. In 2016, Corré set fire to an estimated £5mn worth of original memorabilia, including many Westwood pieces from fabled clothes shop Sex — with his mother’s active endorsement and before semi-interested press cameras.

The stunt was pitched as a protest against the commodification of punk, the related evils of consumer capitalism and the fetishisation of the past. Six years later, the whole shebang is documented in Nigel Askew’s mixed bag of a film, Wake Up Punk. The time lag feels of a piece with the general air of a movie being made by accident, another layer of irony to an attack on nostalgia likely to draw a crowd of nostalgists.

Corré often hymns the value of controversy; the film seems more hesitant. The obvious awkward question — why not give £5mn to the environmental causes he and Westwood champion? — looms large for being left to dangle. The viewer who takes joy in possible hypocrisies will gleefully point out the lack of reference to either the business success of Corré as co-founder of lingerie house Agent Provocateur or Westwood’s global empire.

But the thesis that finally emerges — a young generation still short-changed by the old — is hard to argue with. And Westwood remains a bracing nonconformist, her ideas pearls of unconventional wisdom. Prophetic too. She points out the doleful fate of punk’s rebellion, folded into a traditional English self-image: Sex Pistol John Lydon would soon declare himself a Brexit supporter, Prime Minister Johnson a fan of The Clash.

It also becomes clear just how much of the movement’s real jagged edge was always down to her, a contribution sidelined by cultural historians. The woman herself seems untroubled. For her at least, hindsight truly is best left in ashes.


In UK cinemas now and on digital release from May 9

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