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Review: ‘Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over’ is a punk rock film about a punk rock queen

A female singer fronts a punk band in the documentary "Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over."
Pioneering punk artist Lydia Lunch is shown with her band Retrovirus. She’s the subject of the documentary “Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over.”
(Kathleen Fox)

The Times is committed to reviewing theatrical film releases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because moviegoing carries risks during this time, we remind readers to follow health and safety guidelines as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health officials.

As short, anarchic and explosive as a punk song, “Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over” remains true to the genre in its approach to the story of the No Wave queen. Indie filmmaker Beth B unites vintage footage of frontwoman Lydia Lunch from her early years leading bands like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks with contemporary interviews and performances as she tours with her current group, Retrovirus.

Time may have passed from her early appearances on the gritty New York music scene of the 1970s, but Lunch is still as brash as she was as a teenager — and just as full of anger. Beth B’s documentary reveals the personal and political sources of that rage while establishing Lunch’s hallowed position in music history through interviews with notable names like Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and L7’s Donita Sparks.

Beth B offers little structure in documenting Lunch’s life, but creating a formally composed, linear narrative wouldn’t have felt true to her subject’s wild spirit. “Lydia Lunch” shows the gaps between the artist’s onstage persona and the woman behind the scenes, but Lunch is somehow always authentic. There’s raw honesty, whether she’s screaming into a microphone, performing a spoken-word invective or teasing her bandmates in rehearsal. In 1977 or 2017, her voice alternates between a growl and a yowl, but she always demands — and deserves — to be heard.

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With its in-your-face style and subject, “Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over” likely won’t win over any fans of easy listening (or its cinematic equivalent of gentle PBS-ready docs). This is a messy, riotous film worthy of Lunch herself, and just like Lunch, it isn’t asking to be liked.

‘Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 17 minutes

Playing: Starts July 30, Landmark Nuart Theatre, West Los Angeles


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