(director/writer: Chris Smith; cinematographer: Chris Smith; editor: Joey Scoma; music: Mark Mothersbaugh; cast: Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale, Bob Mothersbaugh; Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Danny Gabai, Chris Smith, Anita Greenspan, Chris Holmes; Warner Music Group/A Library Films; 2024-USA/UK)

“A wonderful pic entertaining the notion of enlightenment through music.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Chris Smith (“Wham”/”Fyre”) energetic biopic doc on the industrial Akron, Ohio New Wave band Devo, formed in 1973, who sang about change in the late 20th century America through peaceful means, is a wonderful pic entertaining the notion of enlightenment through music. Their message about “de-evolution” resonated in the counter-culture community through their hipster experimental music. Devo is short for “de-evolution.”

In 1980 Devo had the hit record Whip It, a belated response to the Nixon era shooting by the National Guard of 4 peace demonstrators, protesting the Vietnam War at Kent State. The record introduced them to a mainstream audience,  whose majority of fans just liked dancing to their music and ignored their messages.

The Kent State art students Gerald Casale and Bob Lewis, and their musician friend Mark Mothersbaugh, formed the band to be a satire on mainstream culture. Joining the group were Gerald’s brother Bob and drummer Alan Myers. Then David Bowie dug their music and hooked them up with Brian Eno, and the band was humming.

The thinking man’s group ruffled feathers during the complacent ’80s. To add zest to their societal protests, the funky band dressed in matching industrial outfits when performing. As their videos and appearances on MTV grew in popularity, they became rock stars.

But fame is fleeting, and by 1984 their hot run ended. “Whip it” was their only major hit, though they had moderate success with songs like “Through Being Cool.” “Beautiful World,” “Girl U Want,” “Freedom of Choice,” and “Working in a Coal Mine.” Those songs kept them from being only one-hit-wonders.

The enjoyable doc is good telling about their music and the many changes in the band, but it tells us little about their personal lives.

On a personal note, they shared the love I had for the 1932 sci-fi classic “Island of Lost Souls.” They used the humanoid beast chants of the film for the title of their first album in 1978– Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!  


It played at the Sundance Film Festival.