Review of
Edge – Perspectives on Drug Free Culture
a film by Marc Pierschel and Michael Kirchner (compassion|media, 2010)

Since several months the documentary Edge – Perspectives on Drug Free Culture has been showing in theatres, in social centers, and at festival sites around the world. Now, the DVD, including some precious additional material, is available as well.

Edge – Perspectives on Drug Free Culture is a remarkable project: in true DIY-fashion, two young German filmmakers, Marc Pierschel and Michael Kirchner, set out on a shoestring budget to gather material for the first ever documentary film of straight edge: a subculture that emerged in the punk hardcore underground in the 1980s and is, in its most basic form, defined by the abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and (other) drugs.

On their way through the USA, the birthplace of straight edge, Pierschel and Kirchner not only talked to (willing or unwilling) icons of straight edge history like Ian MacKaye and Ray Cappo, but they also interviewed young artists and activists who have embraced straight edge as part of their lives and identities almost three decades after MacKaye first coined the phrase by writing a song of the same name.

In a nice change from frantic MTV-induced cutting that makes your head spin (very non-straight-edge indeed), Edge keeps a gentle pace and grants all the portrayed individuals their own chapter, each of which is introduced with well selected footage of the interviewees' work and living environments, allowing us to get a round picture of the people who've decided to share their views on straight edge life with us. The chapters are connected wittily by hand-written notes on sheets of kraft paper that eventually make a complex outline of straight edge history and culture.

Projects like these – basically, a straight edge anthology on film – are prone to criticism of a certain kind: this person is missing, that band should be included; this issue has been neglected, that topic has been overstressed etc. This kind of criticism is as impossible to avoid as it is usually out of place. Given the effort that the producers have put into this, it was certainly their right to make the choices they deemed appropriate – especially when, as in this case, the thought that has gone into them is evident.

The most obvious quandary does not stem from the fact that the film is US-centered – again, this was a DIY project: it is challenging enough to haul film equipment all across the United States on Greyhounds, so let's give these folks a break! – but from the lack of minority voices within the scene: among the twelve interviewees are one woman, one person of color, and no self-identified queer. Needless to say, the producers faced the dilemma that everyone faces when deciding to portray a culture: while ambitions of accurate representation might lead to the selection of majority representatives, such a selection also perpetuates the culture's imbalances. Once again, I believe the choice of the producers needs to be respected – but I would love to see Lucy Thane (She's Real, Worse Than Queer) and James Spooner (Afro-Punk) do straight edge documentaries as well!

The bottom line is simple: Edge – Perspectives on Drug Free Culture is a first of its kind and a must-see for everyone even remotely interested in the straight edge phenomenon!


(July 2010)