Unlike its precursor, "The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle," the new Sex Pistols documentary "The Filth and the Fury" tells the seminal British punk band's story from its members' points of view.
"The Filth and the Fury," which opened March 29 in New York, follows the story of the Sex Pistols, as told by the bandmembers themselves. "Swindle," released in 1980, was the first to put the Pistols' tale to celluloid but was made as a spoof, told from the point of view of band manager Malcolm McLaren.
McLaren took credit for most of the Pistols' fast-burning, late-1970s career, but the new film, directed by Julien Temple (who also directed "Swindle"), tells the story in a different light.
"I manipulated people like an artist," McLaren says in "Filth," his voice accompanied by footage of an inflated rubber fetish mask.
But, in the film, singer John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten) is quick to dismiss McLaren's mastery, saying that while McLaren claimed to be in complete control, the band's interests were constantly falling apart. Lydon wrested legal control of the Pistols' name and music from the former manager in a 1987 court battle.
"You see the progression of Malcolm's take on what he did with the Sex Pistols becoming more and more preposterous as the years go on, so that he now believes he's Dr. Frankenstein," Temple, 45, said from a London film studio. "Obviously Malcolm had a huge part to play, ... but it was not the only part, and it wasn't the master plan. It was spontaneous reaction to events as they popped up, and the band was not controllable. He couldn't control them. No one could control them."
Cohort's Death Provokes Tears
"The Filth and the Fury" moves in linear narrative fashion, telling the Sex Pistols' story as it unfolded. It starts with the working-class childhoods of the original bandmembers Rotten, guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and bassist Glen Matlock and ends with recent interview footage of a tearful Lydon remembering Matlock's replacement, bassist Sid Vicious, who died of a heroin overdose in 1978.
"It's like chemotherapy media radiation blasts that they went through, and it's severe enough that Sid didn't get out the other side, and the others who came out of the other side are scarred by it," Temple said.
"When John talks about Sid, it becomes a weepie," Temple said. "I'd like to stick out free Kleenex tissues with anarchy flags on them for people to cry into."
"I feel guilty about Sid," Lydon says in the film, "because I wish I could have told him more about what to expect. Yes, I could take on England, but I couldn't take on one heroin addict. ... At a time when it should have been the tightest, it couldn't have been looser."
The Pistols' career is well documented in the movie. During Queen Elizabeth II's 25-year jubilee, the bandmembers travel down the Thames River in a party boat, playing "God Save the Queen" (RealAudio excerpt), and are arrested.
Cameras follow the band through early gigs, a secret club tour, a benefit for a children's charity and their ill-fated final tour their first trip to the U.S. including their final show at San Francisco's Winterland.
Film Mirrors Band's Style
The film's title is taken from a London newspaper headline that ran after the band appeared drunk on the "Today Programme" in 1977 and, goaded by also-intoxicated host Bill Grundy, unleashed a string of obscenities that shocked British viewers.
Temple's montage style echoes the Pistols' safety-pinned torn clothing and ransom-note-style album artwork. Film from pivotal gigs, interviews and other events, culled from 20 hours of Temple's leftover "Swindle" footage found in the band's vault, is cut with animation of the band, stock news footage of English social unrest, television commercials, live performances of other bands of the era, Shakespearean films and snippets of comedy routines.
"All I did was cash in on the fact that I was good-looking and had a good figure," Vicious (born John Simon Ritchie) says in a clip from a 1978 interview Temple conducted in London's Hyde Park. The late bassist, wearing a Nazi-flag muscle shirt, sits in a beach chair, smoking and ruffling other park denizens by his mere presence.
Recent interviews with Lydon, Jones, Cook and Matlock were filmed separately in silhouette, effectively freezing them in the time in which the film's events unfold.
Also serving to root the band's story in time is the non-Pistols portion of the soundtrack, which includes tracks by the Who, Alice Cooper (Rotten auditioned for the band by singing along to Cooper's "I'm Eighteen"), David Bowie, bubblegum boy band the Bay City Rollers, American punk peers the New York Dolls and dub-reggae toaster Tappa Zukie.