PARK CITY 2000 REVIEW: The Filth and The Fury Penetrates the Sex Pistols
by Ray Pride
A study in tabloid notoriety and social upheaval, Julien Temple
revises the claims made about the Sex Pistols in his 1980 “The Great
Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.” Where that film was controlled by manager
Malcolm McLaren, who never met a notion he couldn’t co-opt, Temple and
John Lydon are in control of this sort-of doc made by England’s Channel
4 and Jersey Shore Films.
The Sex Pistols (l-r, Paul Cook, Johnny
On Tuesday night’s premiere, John Lydon was in a different element than
he and his mates were in London in the mid-1970s, toting his VH1 crew
for his upcoming series, “Rotten Television.” But on screen, we’re given
the set-up of a crew of very young, very naive working class kids who
happen to burst out of a miserable time in London, a no-hoper moment
filled with social strife. While there are new interviews, much of the
performance footage has been seen before, but not in such quantity.
Aficionados will already have seen much of what was in the likes of
“Swindle” and Lech Kowalski’s “D.O.A.” But the weave of club dates,
clips of bands that influenced them at the time (such as Roxy Music and
Alice Cooper), as well as ripe moments from Lawrence Olivier’s
performance as “Richard III” make for a pungent collage.
The poor quality of much of the footage makes much of the picture look
like Xeroxes of Xeroxed punk posters. It’s a smudgy visual history: in
Greil Marcus‘ formulation, we’re getting the lipstick traces of passions
past. Temple’s contemporary interviews have the surviving members in
silhouette, their faces and figures dark, as if there were in some kind
of witness protection program.
Alongside the deformed outcast “Richard III,” Temple also follows up on
Lydon citing the influence of English music hall comedy with
intermittent clips of a dozen or so face-pulling, imperturbably goonish
comedians like Benny Hill. There’s a new man in charge as well.
“Everyone on the planet now knows that Malcolm is full of shit,” Lydon
intones on the soundtrack, setting the record in his own terms.
Sex Pistols‘ Steve Jones (l) and John Lydon
The brightest moment for me was how the opening 20 minutes or so of
sustained drone and muffle of interview voices gives way to the true
noise of the band, demonstrating what the ruckus was all about. There’s
also a smattering of caught footage of fans who grew up to be pop musicians —
including clips of 12-year-old-looking Siouxsie Sioux, Billy Idol and
Shane Macgowan. Everyone’s youth is so pretty — particularly Sid
Vicious‘ smiles and Lydon’s dancing eyes, full of fire and mischief.
Some of that comes through in Temple and Lydon’s minute dissection of
their notorious Bill Grundy Show appearance, where they scandalized the
scandal press of the nation by swearing. They were admittedly drunk and
Lydon now says Grundy was as well, and that it was like a pub pissing
For the punk initiate, it’s an exhilarating hodgepodge. But for those
seeking sociological context, it’s truly narrow. Influences on the
Pistols are noted, and an early performance of Jonathan Richman’s “Road
Runner” points up the importance of his music to their sound. Yet the
social chaos of the time is noted only in terms of how it affected the
Pistols and how the Pistols pissed off people. Lydon insists theirs was
the truest truth. “When you talk like an asshole and act like an
asshole, you are an asshole,” he says, dismissing his adversaries.
Despite more “fucks” and “you cunts” than you can shake a copy of the
NME at, the times seem almost quaint. In 1977, the Sex Pistols were a
threat to all the media, and today Temple’s film is a little diadem in
the crown of the proposed AOL/TimeWarnerWarner/EMIMusic conglom.
“Every fucking word up there is honest,” Lydon said afterwards,
gesturing at the screen. “A lot of the freedom you have right now is
because of what we did back there. Now I want to go and get filthy
drunk. So peace, peace-off, may the road rise.” And he was gone,
trailing cheers and camera crew.