Movie Review: ‘The Outhouse’

Cami Koons | @koons_cami

“The Outhouse the Film 1985-1997” is a documentary released in 2019 about the famed, cinderblock, dive of a venue right here in Lawrence, Kansas. 

The film was made by former patron and later promoter Brad Norman, and while the film is entertaining for all 2 hours and 13 minutes, it’s clear Norman’s personal investment in the story made it difficult to cut the film down. 

The Outhouse, was famous for being the middle-of-the map punk venue with no rules. While open, some of the biggest names in punk headlined the converted tractor garage located in a corn-field just east of Lawrence. Its unique situation made the Outhouse a memorable venue for artists like Ice T, GWAR, Henry Rollins and many more from the era who speak in the documentary. 

The big-name guests and the locals who remember the venue have fascinating things to say, but as with any interview, not everything should make the final cut. With tighter editing, this film could be really great, but unfortunately, it drags a bit towards the end, and often shows long stretches from one interview at a time. 

“The Outhouse the Film 1985-997” is also largely inaccessible to those without strong knowledge of Lawrence. Venues like the Opera House, Off-the-Wall Hall and the Bottleneck are name dropped, but not defined. The Outhouse’s location is always described as “4 miles east of Mass on 15th street,” but this would mean nothing to someone who didn’t know Lawrence’s downtown sat on Massachusetts Street. 

Technical complaints aside, this film is visually, very appealing, and this is due in large part, to the almost seven years Norman spent collecting photos, videos and most importantly, concert posters. Punk is famous for its inventive, DIY style posters and those of the Outhouse from ‘85-97 are no exception. Each performance mentioned in the documentary is represented by its poster and images from inside the show. A select few even have archival video showing skinheads hanging from the ceiling, stage diving and moshing alongside the graffitied cinder block walls.  

Image from theouthousefilm.com

The posters and graphics made in similar style for the movie, serve as transitions between the eras of the Outhouse. These short sequences are some of the best parts of the film. The colorful, witty and sometimes vulgar posters flash across the screen, changing on the beat to the punk music underneath. It’s the perfect combination of the two elements. 

All of the interviews in this film are made to look as though they were shot in different aspect ratios, though the footage was likely just cropped in post. Some appear in 4:3, others completely square, others still occupying long strips at the top or bottom of the frame. It’s an interesting choice and while it is bizarre, the effect works with this film. After all, a point the subjects drive home is that people who liked punk and frequented the Outhouse, were, “messed up.” Perhaps this can explain why Bill Rich, a promoter of the venue, sits in a cemetery for his interview. 

“The Outhouse the Film 1985-1997” is not a perfect film, but neither was the Outhouse. It was unrefined, potentially lethal and in the middle of nowhere, but gave a whole bunch of “weirdos” a sense of belonging. All of this is evident in the film.

Rent “The Outhouse the Film 1985-1997” on Vimeo, or check out its archival footage, posters and pictures on its website

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