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    The Filth and the Fury

    Something's Rotten

    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.


    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.)

    Directed by: Julien Temple.
    Featuring: Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Steve Cook, Glen Matlock, Malcolm McLaren.

    Related links: Official site
    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 Sex Pistols horrify Britain by saying the word fuck in a television interview with Bill Grundy in The Filth and the Fury
    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

    Reader comments on The Filth and the Fury:

  • The Filth and the Fury   from tfisher, Nov 13, 2000
  • Excellent Doc   from Wren, Apr 5, 2004
  • [no subject]   from Ryan Yates, Jun 22, 2004
  • important message brought to you by home depot!!   from we the world, Aug 23, 2004
  • I love the sex pistols...   from lucy, Jan 10, 2005
  • [no subject]   from Chika, Feb 25, 2005
  • AWESOME   from kirsten, May 22, 2005
  • [no subject]   from res, May 24, 2005
  • comment on review   from stevenson, Jun 9, 2005
  • [no subject]   from I can't remember, Jun 13, 2005

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