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With: John Lydon, Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Glen Matlock, Malcolm McLaren
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Julien Temple
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive strong language, drugs and sexual content
Running Time: 105
Date: 01/25/2000

The Filth and the Fury (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Ever Feel Like You've Been Cheated?

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

I am a huge Sex Pistols fan. I grew up in a small town and it took a kid moving to our town from Germany to bring a copy of Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols in to our sleepy existence. Who knows? I may have owned the very first dub in town of that contraband tape. This was 1986, when the album was just 9 years old, but its power was still undiminished and raw. The Berlin Wall (used as a lyric in "Holidays in the Sun") was still standing and the album hadn't yet gone platinum. And Sid and Nancy (1986) was just coming out on video.

Now the album is 23 years old. The Berlin Wall is gone, and the Sex Pistols have reunited and played a corporate-sponsored tour at coliseums everywhere. And it's time for a new movie, The Filth and the Fury, directed by Julien Temple. Temple had made the 1980 documentary The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, which was based on producer Malcolm McLaren's side of the story. This new movie presents the Sex Pistols' side.

The Filth and the Fury is very odd. It's sloppy and disjointed. It shoves all different kinds of footage together; young people rioting, older people acting silly and civilized, Laurence Olivier playing Richard III, and the band itself. The point is to remind us that the Pistols were revolutionary without trying to be. They were simply responding to a situation; the poverty and class separation in England. Other bands and Pistols fans missed out on the point by dressing up like them. The idea was to be yourself and be different.

But it's hard to be different. I can't imagine a Sex Pistols appearing on the scene today. Surely the world is as screwed up today as it was 23 years ago, if not more so. But extreme bands like Rage Against the Machine and Marilyn Manson quickly get gobbled up by the corporate monoliths and can no longer be effective as revolutionaries. Meanwhile the market is ruled by pre-pubescents like the Backstreet Boys and Brittany Spears and robots like Ricky Martin.

According to this movie, the Sex Pistols didn't seem to care if they were good musicians or if they were revolutionary. They just wanted to make a little noise and see what happened. The rest of their lives were inconsequential by comparison. Maybe that's why Temple chose to shoot the current interviews with band members Johnny Lydon (Johnny Rotten), Steve Jones, Paul Cook, and Glen Matlock, in silhouette. On the other hand, the movie does not glorify Sid Vicious for dying young and becoming immortal, either.

The movie is loaded with great music and classic Sex Pistols moments (like calling a stuffy TV reporter a "dirty fucker" and the final San Francisco Winterland concert: "you ever feel like you've been cheated?"). Yet the final effect is baffling. What kind of moment in time was this? Was it all for nothing? Was Sid Vicious correct to die so young? The movie doesn't have any answers. I doubt this movie would inspire anyone today to pick up a guitar and stir up trouble. I think that Alex Cox's film Sid and Nancy did a better job of capturing the essence of the Sex Pistols, however elusive that essence really is. And of course, there's still the classic record, which is the only document we'll ever really need.

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