Johnny Rotten Cries In Documentary Screened At Sundance

Live music performances at film festival include Matthew Sweet, Third Eye Blind, the Cult, John Popper.

PARK CITY, Utah — The Sex Pistols weren't known for their sentimentality, but in a town full of actors and filmmakers and new movies, it was the pioneering punk band's singer who delivered one of this week's most tear-jerking performances.

Among the many premieres at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival was Julien Temple's "The Filth and the Fury," a Sex Pistols documentary by a director who first chronicled the caterwauling punks in 1980's "The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle." Mixing vintage clips with recent interviews, it shows the surviving Pistols coming to grips with their past. The usually unflappable John Lydon, a.k.a. Johnny Rotten, cries when he describes ex-bandmate Sid Vicious' fatal overdose — then curses Temple on camera for making him break down.

"That's from the heart," Lydon said after the film's first showing Tuesday night. Pointing toward the screen, he said, "and I meant every f---ing word I said in it."

This year, the prestigious film festival, which continues through this weekend, has a definite soundtrack.

As more movie studios have embraced Sundance in recent years, bringing with them the cash to throw Hollywood-size parties there, more and more bands have been playing private gatherings and industry showcases. Couple that with a growing number of musicians who are also film actors, producers or composers, and Sundance and the competing festivals in town (Slamdance, NoDance and LapDance, among them) have become mini–music festivals, too.

Ticket Crunch

But passes to the special music events — such as reunited rock band the Cult's VH1-sponsored show or power-pop singer/songwriter Matthew Sweet's semi-unplugged gig at the year-old Sundance Music Studio — are hard commodities to come by.

It's been easier this week to spot R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, executive producer of festival entry "Spring Forward," mingling with the public than to crash the concerts.

Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds was here to push "Punks," a story of gay black men in West Hollywood, Calif., that he co-produced with his wife, Tracey. Following the film's premiere, Babyface performed with his younger brother, Kevon Edmonds, at the Sundance Music Studio.

The venue, housed in a former Elks Lodge, with racks of antlers lining the walls, offered musicians the chance to play for a small, select audience and possibly be included in a Sundance CD to be released later this year. "I'd like to say thank you to the elk for giving their lives to the ambience of the room," said Sweet, who ran his five-piece band rapidly through songs from his 1999 album, In Reverse. He also played such old favorites as "Divine Intervention" (RealAudio excerpt) and "I've Been Waiting" (RealAudio excerpt), both from Girlfriend (1991).

The festival also played host to Third Eye Blind's final two shows with guitarist Kevin Cadogan, whom the band announced Wednesday it was firing. During the weekend, the pop-rock band played an all-acoustic set, and there was little eye contact between any of the four bandmembers as they played such hits as "How's It Gonna Be" (RealAudio Excerpt) and material from their recent second album, Blue. Singer Stephan Jenkins was the only bandmember to address the audience; he apologized for the rough takes of the newest songs.

"We haven't toured yet on Blue, so we haven't even played these songs electric, let alone acoustic," he said toward the end of the set. Blues Traveler frontman John Popper joined them on harmonica for the set closer, the 1997 smash "Semi-Charmed Life."

Popper was here for a week's worth of solo shows with his own band, which gathered around the seated harmonica whiz for selections from his Zygote album.

Rock On Film

On the movie front, Hole frontwoman Courtney Love, whose acting resume continues to grow, skipped the premiere of "Beat," in which she plays beat novelist William Burroughs' wife, Joan, whom Burroughs killed in a drunken game of William Tell. It's a departure of sorts for Love: She plays the essentially clean partner of a junkie genius. Audience reaction was muted.

Lydon and Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones upped the festival's punk quotient. At the premiere of "The Filth and the Fury," Rotten was his usual gregarious self, mugging for cameras and signing autographs, while Jones sulked in the back of the theater with Temple, cracking a smile only when the film's executive producer, actor Danny DeVito, grabbed him from behind.

"Some of you might know 20 years ago I made a film," Temple said before the screening. "A lot of people have told the story of this band since then, and this is the band's version of the band's story."

"Yeah, the truth!" Rotten shouted from his seat in the back of the theater.

Temple's first Sex Pistols documentary was essentially manager Malcolm McLaren's version of the Pistols' history. "The Filth and the Fury" includes archived interviews with Vicious, clips from the band's disastrous U.S. tour and a notorious BBC television interview.

"That was seriously dangerous sh-- then," Lydon said. "Even swearing on TV — a serious f---ing crime."

Also in town were electronica musician DJ Shadow, who scored the documentary "Dark Days"; rapper Coolio, who acted in the horror film "The Convent"; and singer/songwriter Jonathan Richman, who scored the drama "A Sign From God." Shows by the Cult and ex–Van Halen singer Sammy Hagar are slated for this weekend.

In one of the more strange events of the week, Barenaked Ladies and "Beverly Hills 90210" actor Jason Priestley held a karaoke party for the Slamdance premiere of "Barenaked in America," the Priestley-directed documentary of the band's most recent tour.