Movie Review by Neil Ryan
Starring: John Lydon, Paul Cook, Sid Vicious
Director: Julien Temple
THE FILTH AND THE FURY is the second occasion that director Julien Temple has attempted to relate the story of Punk Rock band The Sex Pistols on film. In 1980 he made THE GREAT ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SWINDLE which depicted the band’s history as a picaresque romp through the consciousness of late 1970’s Britain via a series of (mis)adventures and publicity stunts designed to provoke moral indignation. THE GREAT ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SWINDLE intimated that the band’s escapades were all orchestrated by their manager Malcolm McLaren: his egocentric musings provided the narrative spine of the film and thus his version of The Sex Pistols’ story is now generally accepted as fact. As a result of this Pop historians frequently dismiss the band as a commercial enterprise by McLaren, or they muse floridly about them being his artistic experiment in social outrage.
With THE FILTH AND THE FURY Temple attempts to redress the balance by contextualising the band via a more honest presentation of the facts. The veneer of embellishment and elaboration that has compounded over the past 20 years is stripped away and The Sex Pistols are seen first and foremost as a rock band faced by all of the same problems as hundreds of groups before, during, and after their time (organising equipment and rehearsals, in-fighting due to ‘artistic differences’).
The major source material for the film is the same as that used for THE GREAT ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SWINDLE: over 20 hours of largely unseen archive footage shot by Temple throughout the band’s short lifespan. Added to this are present-day interviews with the surviving band members (Sid Vicous is represented by a remarkably candid conversation with Temple filmed in Hyde Park in 1978); and all manner of film and TV snippets culled from news items, variety shows, and advertisements of the day. The animated segments from THE GREAT ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SWINDLE are dusted down and reused and the whole thing is spliced together via Temple’s well-honed cut and paste technique to produce a visual assault of the informative, irreverent, poignant, and powerful.
This visual montage becomes slightly less frenetic towards the latter stages of the film as Temple’s camera witnesses the band’s breakdown and eventual collapse whilst on tour in America in 1978. By interspersing the band members’ recollections with live footage Temple manages to increase the momentum of the film leading to one of rock music’s greatest and most affecting sign-offs at the band’s final gig in San Francisco.
Another emotional highpoint of the film for Pistols’ fans will be when John Lydon tells of his despair at the fate of Sid Vicious. He seems genuinely distraught when recalling the suicide of his one-time best friend. (However, he clearly fails to see the irony in bemoaning what he deems the lack of ‘respect’ for the memory of the man who more then anyone embodied the ethos of sticking two fingers up at any and all ‘respectable’ establishments and conventions.)
Temple’s extensive use of 1970’s source material ambitiously attempts to infer that The Sex Pistols were a product of more than just musical and fashion influences. The unsettled political and social climate of the era are invoked to suggest that they were equally an anthropological phenomenon.
Temple suggests that the pervasive despair and conflict of the times (e.g. the Winter of Discontent, racial unrest) meant that the nihilistic anti-everything attitude of the Pistols -and the Punk movement in general- were as much a sociological inevitability as they were a cultural necessity.
With THE FILTH AND THE FURY Temple has produced a hugely enjoyable film which will appeal as an original and supremely well made documentary as well as providing ample anecdotes, revelations, and live performance footage for music fans and students of culture alike to appreciate. The story of the band is compelling; the individuals recollections are insightful and amusing; and the period footage will ensure that there will be dewey-eyed thirtysomethings left pining for the good-old bad-old days