"The Filth and the Fury" is the third film about the Sex Pistols. Not
bad for a band that was barely together for two years and only recorded
one studio album. "The Sex Pistols had to end when it did," says
frontman John "Johnny Rotten" Lydon, "but it didn't have to end how it
did." He's right, of course, which is what makes this documentary so
The Sex Pistols came along at the perfect time. They weren't the first
punk band, or the best, but they were certainly the most explosive.
Relatively few people ever saw the group perform (they were banned in
Britain for a time and toured their homeland as SPOTS – Sex Pistols On
Tour Secretly), but their impact was immense. Even in America, where
they received scant attention from the general public, the band served
as an early warning to the purveyors of leaden '70s corporate rock that
change was on its way.
For years, Sex Pistol manager Malcolm McLaren has claimed that the group
was his creation, a sort-of punk rock version of the Monkees. Julien
Temple's crackling, multimedia documentary gives the surviving Sex
Pistols a chance to tell their side of the story. The truth probably
lies somewhere in-between McLaren's version and theirs, but that takes
nothing away from this rousing feature.
All of the most notorious moments from the Sex Pistols' rise and fall
are here: their headline-making, obscenity filled appearance on an
English talk show, their performance of the blissfully obnoxious "God
Save the Queen" on the river Thames during the celebration of Queen
Elizabeth's silver anniversary jubilee, even their abbreviated final
concert at San Francisco's Winterland in January 1978. The footage is
accompanied by recently recorded commentary from Lydon, guitarist Steve
Jones, drummer Paul Cook and bassist Glen Matlock. Temple shows the men
only in silhouette, which helps to keep the focus of the production
squarely in the glory days. Doomed bassist Sid Vicious also appears, in
an interview shot a few months before his death from a heroin overdose.
Thankfully, Temple doesn't lionize the band. They appear as they were; a
group of immature boys who, while striking out blindly in all
directions, made one of the most vital, dynamic albums in the history of
rock and roll.
In addition to the expected music and mayhem, there are several
surprises, including the normally snotty Lydon showing actual human
feelings while discussing the death of Sid Vicious (of course, he could
be faking – with an attention whore like Lydon, you can never be sure).
The best scene has the Sex Pistols appearing at a benefit for the
children of striking firefighters. Watching the cheerful interactions
between the punks and the little ones is worth the price of admission
Copyright © 2000 Edward Johnson-Ott