A punk group that makes boots instead of music is the subject of New York underground docu helmer Lech Kowalski’s latest grunge opus, the first in a projected Polish trilogy entitled “The Wild Wild East.” Kowalski’s “DOA,” his unauthorized docu on Sid and Nancy and the Sex Pistols’ ill-fated U.S. tour, has become something of a cult classic, and “Boot Factory” embraces most of Kowalski’s favorite downer topics, but with a new absurdist social twist as polski punk meets free-market capitalism. Docu could score in alternative, youth-oriented venues.
Scarcely looking out of place, the skinhead/Mohawked, metal-studded trio that run the Cockney Underground Boot Factory in Krakow seem like the only possible denizens of the scuzzy place. Kowalski’s aggressively oblique style suits punkers’ weird blend of nihilism and capitalism — and black, white and shades of gray make for an apt video palette.
The anomaly of seemingly antisocial punkers traipsing off to work each day never quite wears thin: they run a relatively successful business, even though the workplace is awash in brain-destroying glue fumes and high-decibel heavy metal music. While tattooed ex-musician/founder Lukasz dedicatedly minds the store, his long-term friends Piotr and Wojtek drift in and out of the factory, marriages and detoxes. Cobblers’ wives and children wander around, teenage customers enter to order boots which are becoming all the rage in certain circles. A mother accompanying her daughter on a shopping expedition trudges in and wearily capitulates to her teenager’s inexplicable taste in boots and bootmakers. Improbable numbers of people consume impossible quantities of beer in freeform parties that fill the screen to saturation.
Kowalski’s camera doesn’t so much observe the action as sniff around everything like an inquisitive neighbor. Helmer strings together shots wherein nothing seems privileged or more important than anything else: the group might select needles to sew leather or syringes to shoot up heroin — anything might occupy the frame at any moment. At the same time, destiny refuses to go one way; today’s happily married man is tomorrow’s derelict addict and vice-versa.
Docu’s frequent excursions into color in the second half of the film don’t necessarily signal a rosier perspective, though they serve to emphasize the bleakness of the main B&W section.