From Phil Nugent‘s “When Quincy Met Darby Crash, Sort Of: Punksploitation Cinema of the ’70s and ’80s”:
In understanding what punk was seen to offer, and why the American public wasn’t eager to snatch it up, it may help to recognize what was special about the music’s moment in rock history. Punk may have been the first politically charged pop movement to emerge after the whole culture, from top to bottom, had been forced to recognize the existence of “pop culture” as something with its own history and frame of reference. Rock of previous decades, from Elvis to The Beatles, attracted an audience drawn to it for its visceral excitement and surface pleasures. The music and the fashions and attitudes that went with them might change the world, but that was something that would be chewed over and explained later by people who may have become rock critics, but who started out as members of the audience. They had no other point of entry, rock criticism not having yet been invented. As soon as punk was created, it was fed into the maw of the first generation of self-conscious rock critics for instant analysis. It’s no wonder that London Calling struck a nerve with critics, because with its mishmash of styles and invocations of Elvis and Stagger Lee, it was plainly the first rock album made by people who’d read Greil Marcus’s Mystery Train and thought the world of it. Small wonder that Marcus himself wanted The Clash to break through big and loud and wide so bad that he convinced himself that it might happen.
The big difference between punk and earlier forms of rebellious rock was that, where other kinds of rock inspired music and movies and other spin-offs, which in turn inspired theories from the eggheads who published in the Village Voice’s Riffs section, punk, falling in the laps of so many eager young critics looking for the next Beatlemania to have fun writing about, bypassed the middleman and started inspiring glossy theories straight away, which the most literate punk stars would then try to live up to. This helps to explain why punk, compared to earlier fashions in rock, never really inspired a full wave of drive-in flicks and exploitation items, along the lines of The Girl Can’t Help It or Psych-Out, to hook the kids by making them feel part of their own catered-to subculture. It also explains why the best of the recent crop of punk-nostalgia movies is probably 24 Hour Party People, whose hero isn’t a performer but a gasbag critical type who can’t stop pompously telling us, the audience, what the hell we’re watching.
[N]o filmmaker tried harder to carve out a niche for himself as the punk of cinema than Alex Cox. Cox first went for the gold with the 1984 cult comedy Repo Man, which remains his most entertaining film and one of our finest sources of both Tracey Walter and Harry Dean Stanton. The movie, which features a title tune performed by Iggy Pop and an onscreen appearance by the Circle Jerks, taps into a vein of sci-fi black humor that is clearly meant to be punky as hell, though at times it has enough of a ’60s underground-comics vibe to blur the lines between periods and subcultures. (Reformed Monkee Michael Nesmith helped put up the money for it, and Pauline Kael in the New Yorker likened it to “something left over from the sixties that cheerfully moldered into the eighties.” Flush with success, Cox began work on Sid and Nancy, which, when it was released in the fall of 1986, would make its bit of history as the very first conscious attempt to recreate an earlier moment in punk onscreen.
I still remember the first time I found out that the movie existed. I had just driven—or, to be precise, had just been driven by a girlfriend who I wanted to break up with, but who, unlike me, had a car—to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which housed the nearest movie theater playing Blue Velvet. I was killing time in a mall record shop, waiting for the start time for the movie, when I started thumbing through the soundtrack albums and pulled up the one for Sid and Nancy. I started to examine it, realized what it was, and felt as if the world had disappeared from beneath my feet. I know it sounds horrifically naïve now, but back then, it was a real shock to suddenly have to wrap my head around the concept of punk nostalgia.