Shakespeare and the Sex Pistols? You decide if there's a connection as the new documentary "The Filth and the Fury" shows yet-unseen sides of the shocking punk band with the focus on singer John Lydon.
By DAWN EDEN
It's not often that one hears the Sex Pistols and Shakespeare mentioned
in the same breath, but "The Filth and the Fury" argues a strong connection
between them, starting with its Macbeth-inspired tabloid headline of a
title. Director Julien Temple, who told Sex Pistols manager Malcolm
McLaren's version of the group's rise and fall in "The Great Rock and Roll
Swindle" (1980), now brings us the members' side of the story. Actually,
it's mostly Johnny Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten)'s side, although Paul Cook,
Glen Matlock, and even the late Sid Vicious manage to get some words in.
(The latter appears via footage from Lech Kowalski's "D.O.A." and a
never-before-seen al fresco interview with Temple.)
The words "rock documentary" or "rockumentary" if you watch VH-1
evoke a predictable mix of performance footage and talking heads. Although
the genre's cliches are difficult to avoid, Temple is clearly aware of them
and circumvents them at every chance. His job is made especially difficult
by the existence of "D.O.A." and his own "Swindle," both of which are
familiar to much of his core audience. While he uses key footage from both
films, he bombards the viewer with so much rarely or never-before-seen
material that the overall effect is that of a completely new film. He also
treats the talking heads in an unusual fashion, placing them in shadow like
crime witnesses in the nightly news. (Malcolm McLaren is an exception,
appearing from within a sadomasochistic mask through which only his
sparkling eyes can be seen.) Although the tactic deprives the viewer the
opportunity to read the speakers' expressions, it keeps the film's focus on
their careers as angry young men.
|THE FILTH AND THE FURY|
|Directed by: Julien Temple.|
Featuring: Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Steve Cook, Glen Matlock, Malcolm McLaren.
Related links: Official site
|The Sex Pistols horrify Britain by saying the word "fuck" in a television interview with Bill Grundy|
In addition to recently unearthed concert footage (much of it shot by
Temple when he was a film student), the director, who owned one of the
first home videotape recorders, gives the Sex Pistols a cultural context
via television clips showing mainstream England's horror at the punk
implosion. One gem is the notorious Bill Grundy interview, in which one of
Britain's most famous talk show hosts drunkenly goads the equally drunk
Pistols into saying the f-word.
While "The Filth and the Fury" would have you believe that the Sex
Pistols' on-air use of that expletive broke ground, the word was in fact
used on air for the first time on the Beeb more than ten years earlier, in
1965, by drama critic Kenneth Tynan. One of the film's few weaknesses, in
fact, is an occasional tendency to present the Pistols as the first
offenders. Johnny Lydon brags early on that the group were the first people
to call one another "cunts" in everyday conversation. Anyone who has heard
one of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's pre-Pistols "Derek and Clive"
recordings knows that this is not the case. Similarly, there's a quick shot
of one Pistols fan wearing a knotted handkerchief on his head and talking
in a funny, imbecilic voice. The handkerchief no doubt is, as the film
suggests, a homage to Steve Jones, who sported one himself, but the voice
is a homage to the Monty Python character who inspired Jones's own
headgear, A. J. Gumby.
Still, these are minor complaints, especially since the film goes out
of its way to acknowledge previously uncredited inspiration for the
Pistols, including classic British comedians like Max Miller and Norman
Wisdom. Then there's the truly inspired "Richard III" connection, as
footage of Laurence Olivier's performance in Shakespeare's play is
intermingled with onstage footage of Johnny Rotten. You will never see
Rotten the same way again.
|MARCH 27, 2000|
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