A group of teens sit at a table in a graffiti covered club that throbs with music. They experiment with drugs, crash onto the dance floor, and party with the free joy of their youth – until the cops come crashing in. In short order, things go from bad to worse as they attack an officer, steal a van, and hide out in a closed-down state park… only to end up in the crosshairs of an unhinged park ranger. At its core, The Ranger is a film about the clash between self-expression and conformity, of self-determination vs. oppressive authority. About finding yourself in a world that tries to tell you how you should be. Currently making its way through the festival circuit – including this past weekend at our own Boston Underground Film Festival – The Ranger‘s message is loud and clear, not only in plot, but in the blindingly pure punk aesthetic of its wicked cool wardrobe and solid soundtrack.
But unlike a lot of the films that are marketed to us so-called ‘alternative’ folk, the punk scene had always been intrinsic to the film in Director/Producer Jenn Wexler’s mind. First outlined to her by Giaco Furino while the two attended college, the plot was foremost in Wexler’s mind when she decided to take the plunge into directing a feature-length film. The two quickly turned a handful of notes into a script – and it was nearly three years ago, at a bar in Montreal, where she first handed the script to Heather Buckley, a producer known for her leather jackets, spurs and Soo Catwoman hair.
“Right away the characters sounded like my punk friends,” Buckley says. “But what would the music sound like?”
This is where our journey begins.
“As I read the script I put down in the notes what type of punk music would be good from this film.” Heather Buckley, Producer
Buckley grew up in New Jersey; It was at the age of 13 that she first heard “God Save the Queen” the second single from the Sex Pistols: “I was transformed,” she recalls. “That was the sound of what was inside me.”
Buckley went to punk shows at CBGB‘s in NYC, and, while visiting her sister at college, Lupo’s in Providence. That’s where she discovered more Boston-based bands. “The Unseen, Darkbuster, The Pinkerton Thugs, the Ducky Boys …”
“Once I made a boyfriend drive up from New Jersey to The Middle East [in Cambridge] in a snowstorm to see The Big Bad Bollocks,” she tells me. “And the first time I saw the Dropkick Murphys was when they opened for Agnostic Front.” She goes on to name other local favorites: “… Gang Green, The Street Dogs, Blood for Blood, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Allstonians, and The F.U.s.”
Buckley’s passion for Boston punk comes as no surprise. The scene has always been connected to the one she grew up around in New York City. “I think the unity between the two scenes has something to do with our direct, hard-edged character and similar senses of humor.” she tells me. I think she’s right. The origins of both can be traced back to Proto-punk and Anarcho-punk; first generation sub-genres from the UK that are known for their stripped-down, do-it-yourselfwork ethic, a concept not lost on those who chose to live and practice art on the East Coast.
But that being said, what you’ll hear used in the movie is decidedly not all East Coast. “The soundtrack had to express the vibe and culture of the kids.” Buckley says. Wexler agrees: “I wanted to underscore the themes with a soundtrack that spans different sub-genres of punk and reminds you of your old favorite mixtape.”
Both wanted to capture the sound and vibe of circle pits (mosh pits/slam dancing) and Skate punk, both younger sub-genres and cultures that did not come from New York or Boston, but California. But for that, Buckley and Wexler were going to need help – and that’s when they started working with promoter Middagh Goodwin.
“That is still one of the most endearing qualities of punk, we are an extended family.” – Middagh Goodwin, Music Supervisor
Goodwin grew up in Southern California, and went to his first punk show in 1981 (he was in the 8th grade). “It was Black Flag at Artesia High School,” he remembers. “It was one of [Henry] Rollins’ first shows with the band. The energy they brought was incredible, and most people had no idea what was going on. Especially at that time, there was no line between the band and the audience – we were all in it together.”
From that moment, it was a done deal – Goodwin has now been booking California-based punk bands for over 30 years. And with credentials like that, it’s no surprise that he was quickly brought on as the Music Supervisor for The Ranger. “I watched it once through with the sound on to get to know the story and the characters,” he says. “After that, I watched the film muted numerous times, just listening to songs to see how they would work. The songs had to fit the mood, the tempo and movement of the scene.”
The audience can expect to hear deep cuts from The Avengers, Authorities, Dayglo Abortions, FANG, The GRIM, and relatively new bands like The Atom Age, The Nerv, The Lobstrosities, The Polyester Wags, and Rotten UK (who also perform live in the film). It’s a great soundtrack, and really helps build the world the characters inhabit. Which makes sense when Goodwin compares a good soundtrack acts to a supporting character in a film.
“The Ranger would have been a totally different movie without a legitimate punk soundtrack.” He asks: “Can you imagine, Return of the Living Dead or Repo Man without the soundtrack?”
Like Buckley, Goodwin is also a fan of Boston punk. “I love a lot of Boston Ska, too,” Goodwin tells me. “Bosstones, Big D (and the Kids), Westbound Train, The Allstonians. Boston bands have a unique sound unlike anything else.”
“…the first big thing I went to – maybe at 14 years old – was Bad Religion, in a field somewhere. I was totally transformed by it.” Jenn Wexler, Director/Producer
You’ll be happy to hear that ‘Team Ranger’ is enthusiastically planning on a physical soundtrack release. “The rumor is a limited pressing, double gatefold color vinyl to be released hopefully very soon,” Goodwin says. “I would love to see a new generation being introduced to all these bands, much like I was with the This is Boston, Not L.A. compilation.”
Buckley has a similar goal. “My hope is everyone loves The Ranger – and that the music helps influence and create the next wave of punk rockers.”
The Ranger stars Chloe Levine, Jeremy Holm, Granit Lahu, and Jeremy Pope. It’s currently doing a festival run and will be playing at the Chattanooga Film Festival next week.