In the world of
Ear Candy #2
-by Tom Grozan
‘The Filth And The Fury’
you feel powerless you’ll grab any source of power you can to maintain your
self respect” -Johnny Rotten
were together only two years and put out a single album but nobody since the
Beatles, roughly a decade earlier, were more influential to British music and
culture than the Sex Pistols. It’s
hard to imagine nowadays with the punk aesthetic completely assimilated into pop
culture (they’re using the Buzzcocks in Mitsubishi commercials for Christ’s
sake!) how revolutionary the Sex Pistols were in 1976. Julian Temple’s
brilliant documentary “Sex Pistols: The Filth and the Fury”
restores the weight of that impact to a jaded turn of the century
post-punk audience. Temple is a long time Pistols associate who directed the
ill-fated Sex Pistols movie “The Great Rock & Roll Swindle”, who’s
original title “Who Killed Bambi” was changed by the time the film was
finally released in 1980 due the Nancy Spungeon murder and Sid Vicious’
first thing that hits you in “The Filth and the Fury” is Temple’s
masterful use of montage to set the scene and accentuate key story beats.
Temple, a music video veteran from the dawn of MTV,
rapidly intercuts vintage news footage, commercials, home movies,
music clips, the wackiest version of Henry the VIII I’ve ever seen, and
more without losing any of the emotion or drama of the story. Images of
English tenements, garbage piled ten feet high, and street riots go a
long way in establishing the frustration and hopelessness that spawned the Sex
Pistols and fueled the Punk movement in
Sex Pistols were formed by childhood friends Steve Jones (guitar), Paul Cook
(drums) and Glen Mattlock (bass) while hanging out in future manager Malcom
McClaren’s London boutique SEX, which sold rubber & leather S&M
clothing. Johnny Rotten, who also hung out at SEX, was soon recruited as the
singer because he had the right look and attitude. One of the most humorous
anecdotes of the film details how the newly formed band got its equipment. Steve
Jones, by everyone’s account as well as his own admittance,
was a raving kleptomaniac. When David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust farewell
tour hit London’s Hammersmith Odeon, Jones propped open a stage door and
nicked the gear while the roadies were sleeping.
these candid and personal reminiscences that give the film it’s
emotional center and go a long way towards humanizing individuals (especially
Rotten and Vicious) who long ago became punk rock caricatures. Present day
interviews with the surviving members are filmed totally in silhouette. It’s
an effect which allows a detached perspective while not distracting from the
time at hand or diminishing the legend. The accounts given are wonderfully
disparaging and contradictory. Bassist Mattlock was fired (and replaced by
Rotten’s friend Sid Vicious) for “being a total cunt”.
In describing their first meeting with Vicious’ notorious girlfriend
Nancy Spungeon, Steve Jones says “I thought she was a horrible person, I
wanted nothing to do with her” while Paul Cook states “When I first saw
Nancy, Steve was shagging her in the toilet”.
most poignant moment
is when Johnny Rotten breaks down in tears of grief and guilt recounting
the fate of Vicious, who he brought into the band and for whom he still feels
responsible. It’s a heartbreakingly honest and vulnerable moment for someone
who’ public persona is so snidely venomous and uncompromising. You forget just
how young Sid Vicious was until you see the footage of him and realize he was
just a pimply faced 18 year who got in over his head instead of the icon of punk
excess he’s been marketed into.
most revolutions the Sex Pistols soon collapsed as their popularity transformed
punk into a fashion statement and a fearful status quo lashed back. Rich kids
with mohawks and expensive leather jackets began mixing with the working class
in ripped t-shirts. A relentless
and unscrupulous British press, hungry to sell papers, hounds the groups every
move and fuels controversy. The group is signed and dropped within days from two
record companies and banned from virtually every concert venue in England.
Eventually internal strife and manipulations from P.T. Barnum-like manager
McClaren causes the band to fall apart on their first U.S. tour.
Filth and the Fury” is the best rock & roll documentary I’ve ever seen.
It’s artful, entertaining and just a great all around film. For music
fans it’s an essential historical document of a band and a movement who’s
influence is still being felt today.
Copyright©2000 GrayHaven Magazine and contributors