Saturday, 9 June 2007
THE FILTH AND THE FURY
The Filth and the Fury (2000) dir. Julien Temple
Julian’s Temple film about the rise and fall of the Sex Pistols is one of the greatest rock documentaries. In part the film was a reactionary film to Temple’s 1980 part documentary, part manufactured film about the Pistols, “The Great Rock and Roll Swindle.” This first film was told entirely from the point of view of manager Malcolm McLaren and didn’t feature the participation of the band members. In “The Swindle” McLaren claims full responsibility for the success of the band and its marketing and promotion of punk as a product. In “The Filth and the Fury” Johnny Rotten and the boys get to set the record straight and tell the real side of the story.
The film begins with the childhood beginnings of Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Glen Matlock, and Paul Cook in working class England. The bandmates are only heard in voiceover describing their experiences growing up poor, badly educated in the lower classes, and having nothing better to do than listen and play music and cause shit. Clearly these guys are not manufactured bad-asses. Rotten’s contempt for conformity, society and all things commercial is evident back then, and today. Rotten’s candor is enjoyable, he is both self-effacing and cocky at the same time.
The film follows a traditional narrative timeline and charts the course from their raw, rough and tumble beginnings to their congruous rise with the popularity of punk in the mid to late 70’s, their influence on fashion, the replacement of Glen Matlock with Sid Vicious and their quick and sudden demise due to Vicious’ heroin addiction and Cook and Jones’ disillusion with the band.
Though we do see the bandmates in talking head interview style their faces are obscured in silhouette and darkness. It’s an interesting and effective technique of preserving their legacy and their punk image - Temple has no desire to see Paul Cook wearing a Dockers polo shirt and a pair of khakis.
Temple edits the musical concert footage with energy and aggression by intercutting the ironic pop culture images of the time and its metaphors with British life. Lawrence Olivier’s ridiculous by comparison “Richard III” gets frequent screen time. The highlight of the film for me is the sequence which shows their initial rise in popularity in London - set to the raucous “Roadrunner” – the sequence is a wonderful momentum-builder.
Rotten loves the Sex Pistols, and still harbours contempt for McLaren, his friend Vicious for destroyed himself with heroin, his bandmates for abandoning him, but mostly himself for not being smart enough to fix it.
Rotten admits the band ended at the right time but under the wrong circumstances. But for being the kings of the punk movement I don’t think there was another way of going out than the legendary on stage self-destruction at the Winterland Theatre in San Francisco on Jan 14, 1978.
At times Rotten seems to contradict himself – he’s believes wholeheartedly in keeping it real and truthful, not selling out or commercializing himself or the band. But at the same time he resents Malcolm for not giving him enough money, cutting off his credit cards, and housing him in motel rooms while he sleeps at the Hilton. But Rotten never wanted to live like Malcolm, or get rich, or live high on the hog, all he did wanted was to be treated and respected for his work. And so, Johnny Rotten is not contradictory, but slightly profound.
So, what are the Sex Pistols all about? Rotten sums it up at the end as being a search for truth. Truth in what you believe, what you stand for and not giving fuck what anyone else thinks. If there’s one rock documentary you should see, it’s this “The Filth and the Fury”. Enjoy.
Buy it here: The Filth and the Fury - A Sex Pistols Film