Don’t Break Down: A Film About Jawbreaker
directed by Tim Irwin, Keith Schieron, Chris Bauermeister
starring Blake Schwarzenbach, Adam Pfahler,
Rocket Fuel Films
With tough-guy hardcore and metal crossover dominating the era, the late ’80s wasn’t the greatest time to start a literate punk band inspired sonically by Husker Du, Naked Raygun, and the Smiths.
To the members of Jawbreaker, that meant it was the perfect time. “When I really realized punk was dead, then I realized it was a good time to be a part of it,” states guitarist/vocalist Blake Schwarzenbach early on in the 2017 documentary Don’t Break Down: A Film About Jawbreaker
Like director/producers Tim Irwin and Keith Schieron’s documentary We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen, Don’t Break Down is primarily a story about friendship. Schwarzenbach and bassist Chris Bauermeister met in Santa Monica’s Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences and used a stolen school guitar to launch a band. After relocating to NYU, they met drummer Adam Pfahler and eventually formed Jawbreaker, whose five plus year existence would test their friendship, inspire countless bands, and weather the storms of the major label punk signing frenzy of the mid ’90s.
Jawbreaker’s literate lyrics and ability to treat women as actual people in their songs (a rarity in pop-punk) attracted a large following in the American indie underground. These fans’ personal connection to the band led to them feelings of betrayal when Jawbreaker opened for Nirvana and signed with a major label for their final album, adding to an already tense situation in the band.
Don’t Break Down visits the band in 2007 as they meet for the first time in 11 years to listen to remasters of their albums and engage in awkward, tense interviews. It is clear that Schwarzenbach isn’t interested in a reunion, and doesn’t even feel like talking about the songs. Band archivist Pfahler seems to really want something more, and it’s apparent that while tensions have ebbed since the break-up, there are still differences and conflicts that were never resolved.
Interspersed between the interviews and archival footage we see the band take a leap of faith by quitting their jobs and leaving their apartments to tour Europe, measure the size of their van against the fleet of Nirvana tour busses, and watch an interview with Steve Albini mistaking them for Jawbox. Spoiler alert, the film ends with the band playing at Riot Fest 2017, and will be headlining Gainesville’s Fest later this year.
While maybe not as dramatic as We Jam Econo, Don’t Break Down is a compelling look at the state of the late ’80s/early /90s underground scene, and a fascinating look at the toll performing in a band can take on friendships.