The Mission of Burma Story – Not a Photograph – Review

dvd-themissionofburma200The Mission of Burma Story

Not a Photograph (MVD)
by Hansel Merchor

Mission of Burma’s influence in rock history is undeniable. The band worked hard at it during the first half of the ’80s, crafting some of the most interesting American post-punk. Though their recorded legacy was limited to an EP and a full-length, their material would resonate enough to influence a number of hugely popular bands that would in time shape rock history with their own hands. To say that on a scale of popularity, Mission of Burma would barely make the rank, is an understatement. The band that The New Yorker labeled “the most criminally undersung band of the 1980s” acquired, in the years following its demise, cult status, and became the stuff often championed by artists of the size of Kurt Cobain or Frank Black. By and large, most of the general public remained ignorant to their powerful angularity and stridence – in many ways molded after Brit bands Wire and Gang of Four – of songs such as “Academy Fight Song,” “Max Ernst,” and the classic song unfortunately covered by Moby, “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver.”

Not a Photograph documents their road back to the stage in 2001. According to the band, there were several reasons for reunion; Joey Ramone had died, it was the 25th anniversary of punk rock, and their chapter in Michael Azerrad’s brilliant book, Our Band Could Be Your Life, made them nostalgic. Also Mark Kates, current record executive and former Burma promoter, was offering to manage the band. That’s what most likely tipped the scale.

Professionally filmed, with great direction and even better editing (no filler in sight), this 70 minute documentary perfectly documents these grown ups getting their rock back on. As the promo proclaims, this is what happens when “the most influential band you’ve never heard reunites after 19 years.” Plenty of juicy extras here too; archival live performances from 1978, 1979, and 1981, six live performances from the 2002 Inexplicable tour, studio recording footage from their comeback Matador release, ONoffON, and a local news segment from 1983. In other words, all you need to learn about Mission of Burma and come off like you actually knew your punk directly from the source, and not from the derivatives, read; Nirvana or The Pixies.