Return to Cuckoo’s Nest

Attendance at the legendary Costa Mesa punk rock venue the Cuckoo’s Nest had dwindled and the legal bills were piling up when club owner Jerry Roach locked the place up for the last time in December 1981.

The constant brawls between the punks, the cops and the cowboys at the pizza restaurant next door, not to mention fights with the courts and the City Council, got to be too much for Roach in the end.

“I just kind of picked a day and abdicated — just packed up my bags and went to another club I owned in Anaheim,” he said.

The Cuckoo’s Nest was the biggest punk club in Orange County in the late 1970s and early ’80s, drawing hundreds of young fans to see bands like the Adolescents and Social Distortion. The club was known as much as for the seminal punk bands that played there as for its violent clashes between patrons and police.

Some 30 years later, Roach is back in town, this time to promote a new documentary about the punk club that’s slated to premiere Sunday at the Newport Beach Film Festival. But like just about everything in the brief, volatile history of the Cuckoo’s Nest, the future of the documentary “We Were Feared” is already clouded by a potential court battle.

The maker of an earlier, undistributed documentary about the punk club has stepped forward, claiming the makers of “We Were Feared” had no right to incorporate some of his footage into the new film.

Organizers of the Newport Beach Film Festival have also been notified that they could be held liable for copyright infringement if “We Were Feared” is shown at the festival.

Some of the footage from “We Were Feared” comes from a short documentary called “Urban Struggle: The Battle of the Cuckoo’s Nest” a rare, undistributed black and white film that was made by Orange Coast College student Paul Young in 1981.

“Urban Struggle” features rare footage of early performances at the Cuckoo’s Nest by punk bands like Black Flag and the Vandals.

“We Were Feared” uses some of the footage, also incorporating new interviews with musicians from some of the bands, like D.I. and TSOL.

The producers of the film hope to use “We Were Feared” as a springboard to make a dramatic, feature film about the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Roach claims he owns “Urban Struggle,” and that he hired Young, who earned college credit, to make the film.

“It’s kind of disappointing that he would come around and claim these things — maybe he smells money,” Roach said.

David Erikson, an attorney who represents Young, maintains his client has always owned the rights to “Urban Struggle.”

“This is a matter of copyright law. Whether you pay for something or earn credit for it, it doesn’t affect the copyright,” Erikson said. “The only thing Jerry Roach did was open the doors of his club. He had no part in the creative process. My client shot and edited everything.”

Newport Beach Film Festival organizers said Wednesday that they had no plans to cancel two scheduled screenings of “We Were Feared.”

Over the past 30 years, Roach has sold parts of footage from “Urban Struggle” to MTV. Part of the film also was used in a 2006 feature-length documentary called “American Hardcore.”

“We Were Feared” executive producer Ivan Correa, president of the production company Endurance Pictures, said he was surprised to get a letter from Young’s attorney just days before the new documentary is slated to premiere.

“I thought that was pretty funny, because [Urban Struggle] has been available for 30 years — it’s kind of ludicrous really, nobody has shown any interest in it for 30 years.”

If You Go

What: “We Were Feared”

When: 5:45 p.m. Sunday, 9 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Edwards Island Cinema, 999 Newport Center Drive