Within the first two minutes of Rebel Scum, a documentary film about Knoxville, Tenn.'s self-proclaimed white trash punk band, the Dirty Works, vocalist Christopher Scum lights his hair on fire in a drunken haze. Off camera, there's a scramble to put him out, but Scum simply pats out the flames with his hand while staring blankly into space. The silence is broken when the voice of director Anthony "Video Rahim" Hakmati warns that if he doesn't stop hurting himself, the filming is over. "Being in the hotel room with him while he was in this terrible state was both surreal and terrifying," recalls producer and narrator, Francis Percarpio, who co-runs Worldstorm Arts Lab with Hakmati.
The scene is an apropos introduction to the mountainous frontman whose unbridled passions, addictions, and mental damage culminate in such songs as "Knoxville Hates Us," "Bible Belt" and "Christ Pod." The latter is a song about jailhouse religion that builds on the mantra, "No God, no religion." On stage, Scum beats himself in the head with brass knuckles, microphones and whatever else he can use to admonish his demons. Rebel Scum offers an insider's look at these grotesque, compelling scenes, shielding viewers from none of the harsh realities the film uncovers.
Scum and company are the antithesis of the God-fearing South, and they channel their societal angst into the lifestyle of endearing rock and roll scoundrels. Rowdy shows and after-hours parties, where many beers and even one poor bug are consumed, clearly illustrate that these guys know how to have fun. But there's a darker side to the film that delves into Scum's background, exposing childhood traumas that manifest in his self-destructive performances. "As a disciple of Iggy and his ilk, I was instantly drawn to the band," Percarpio says. "Christopher Scum is a very talented lyricist, a larger-than-life character and an entirely unique individual whom I found intriguing. There was a story there, we just had to go get it. So, we got it." But be warned, it ain't pretty.