Paul Rachman's in Dallas today promoting his first documentary film, American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1980-1986, in which the filmmaker chronicles the rise of such bands as Black Flag, Bad Brains, the Dead Kennedys, Minor Threat, D.O.A., the Dicks (from Austin), the Replacements and some lesser-knowns legends. The film's based on Steve Blush's 2001 book of the same name, itself an oral history of a time, a place, a sound and a revolution whose echoes linger to this very moment. Rachman's a NYC boy raised on hardcore; his career as a filmmaker began when he used to shoot punk shows in 1980, and some of that footage finds its way into American Hardcore, which opens here November 3 after playing the Sundance and Toronto film festivals this year.
This trip marks only the second time Rachman's been in Dallas--the first being 16 years ago, when he was hired to direct a handful of videos for Pantera's album Cowboys From Hell, its debut on Atlantic Records' ATCO subsidiary and the album on which the band ditched its dyed glam roots for a decidely heavier metal sound. At the time, Rachman was working at Propaganda Films, the music-video production company started in the 1980s by Fight Club director David Fincher, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" maker Nigel Dick and others. Propaganda kicked out every famous video on MTV in the late 1980s and early '90s: "Sweet Child o' Mine," "Rhythm Nation," "I Touch Myself," "Freedom '90," you name it. The Propaganda filmography would also include several Pantera videos, including ones for "Cowboys From Hell," "Psycho Holiday," "Cemetery Gates" and "Mouth for War," all made by Rachman, who spoke to Unfair Park this morning about the experience of working with the band. What he says, and a few of the videos, are after the jump.
How did you hook up with Pantera in the first place?
I was splitting my time between New York and Los Angeles, and in 1990 Cowboys From Hell comes across my desk. I was taken. I got it. But they chose me. I came to Dallas, and we shot this very, very intense live show at the Basement. I was looking at one of the videos we shot there that year, "Psycho Holiday," and that's one of the most intense performances I ever captured. It feels right even today.
What do you mean, they chose you? Was the band actually familiar with your work?
They had seen my reel and had known the stuff I had done, and it was just the right fit. Their music had its roots in the hardcore scene--very fast, very aggressive. They wanted to do something live, and I was used do doing a live show in a small club. It was my speciality from coming up in the hardcore scene. It worked for them, and it was great coming to their home turf. It was their last show in Dallas before the record came out. After that, they became a huge band. We did so much that day with so little. We shot in the afternoon. I was able to shoot Phil [Anselmo] solo singing "Cemetery Gates," which eventually became a video. We shot "Cowboys From Hell" and "Psyhco Holiday" too. We brought in an audience in the afternoon to get close-ups, but at night it was a free-for-all. I was stage-diving with a small hand-held camera. I used to have this little 16mm Bolex hand-cranked camera, and I would jump from the stage. It was about capturing that intensity.
Bonus Video: Pantera, "Cowboys From Hell" (directed by Paul Rachman)
Then you did "Mouth for War" off 1992's Vulgar Display of Power.
That was an important video in terms of its look and intensity, when I look back at it. It was often imitated, because I used these strobe lights attached to the camera and black-and-white film to get this contrasty stop-motion look. I think it created a genre for heavy metal videos, this strobe-light effect.
Why didn't you keep working with them?
Well, after that those guys were making videos with the guys who did Metallica videos, and I started doing films. I had co-founded Slamdance by 1995, I was working on a screenplay I was trying to get made, and I took a step away from music videos.
Did you stay in touch with the band? I ask because Phil Anselmo makes an appearance in American Hardcore.
We fell apart a little bit. We did interview Phil for American Hardcore because he was influenced by Black Flag and Henry Rollins. I will say the morning I heard Dimebag [Darrell Abbott] was murdered [in December 2004], I remember my heart sinking into my foot. It's an emotional moment when someone you work closely with, someone you respected, dies so tragically. I never got a chance to talk to Vinnie Paul afterward. If he's reading this, he has my sincere respects.
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You've directed videos for the likes of Temple of a Dog, the Replacements, Joan Jett, Alice in Chains and on and on. Yet rather than show them all on your Web site, you have only 10--two of which are from Pantera, the only band to appear twice. How come?
Those are videos I can watch over and over. The music spoke to me. I felt that music, and that's why I was able to transcend it, I guess. It was an important music to me at that titme. I related to it. As a music-video director you don't relate to everything, but Pantera, that crept under my skin. --Robert Wilonsky
Bonus Video: Pantera, "Cemetery Gates" (directed by Paul Rachman)