The story of the MC5's rise and fall is one of the great legends of the rock 'n' roll generation: five working-class Detroit punks are hell-bent on using the power of their high-energy music to score dope and chicks and fire a social revolution, only to be crushed by the Man and left burnt, bitter and dead. It's tragedy of near Shakespearean proportions set against the city-torching racial tumult of the late 60s, with a little FBI intrigue mixed in -- a complete no-brainer as a cinematic concept. Chicago-based filmmaker David C. Thomas thought as much, so the MC5 fan who'd never witnessed a live performance decided to create the film he'd always wanted to see.
MC5 A True Testimonial, making it's Canadian premiere as part of the film festival Wednesday, is the first serious documentary to explore the music, the motivation and the mayhem behind the MC5 myth.
For the past seven years, Thomas and producer partner Laurel Legler gathered photos, Super 8 and 16mm concert clips (including surveillance footage shot by the U.S. Army Signal Corps outside the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago) to accompany the first-hand accounts of the surviving band members and associates.
"I'd been approached many times before by people with ideas about making a movie about the MC5," says guitarist Wayne Kramer from his Los Angeles home. "But these were the first folks that I felt were sincere about telling the real story.
"So I used everything I had to help them make the best film they could, including arranging interviews with people like (MC5 manager) John Sinclair and (producer) Jon Landau who didn't want to participate.
"The film did a very good job of laying out the arc of the story -- from the neighbourhood thing through the political and cultural challenges we faced, leading to the conflicts with the music industry, the government and within the band itself. They got it all."
Essentially, MC5 A True Testimonial is a tale of failure on a grand scale, which means that many troubling and embarrassing events are highlighted. Kramer wouldn't have it any other way.
"It's rigorously honest, and it had to be. You can't leave out the parts of the story you don't like. I did a lot of crazy things as a kid and we made a lot of mistakes as the MC5, and all of that needs to be in there.
"This is not a new story, and the scenario continues to be played out over and over again. Young people work really hard to learn how to play instruments and write songs. They get a shot, and it doesn't work out. Most bands don't make it, but nothing prepares people for that, and it can be very damaging.
"There's a great lie that success is a cure for whatever ails you: if you have a hit record or a hit movie your problems will be over. Well, it's not true."email@example.com
MC5 A True Testimonial D: David C. Thomas. USA. 120 minutes. Single tickets $14.50, advance $13.75. Screening as part of the Toronto International Film Festival, Wednesday, September 11, 11:59 pm VARSITY 8; Friday, September 13, noon CUMBERLAND 3.