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Never Mind the Bollocks.

As 'N Sync and Britney Spears have managed to make it to the covers of national news magazines, I couldn't help but feel maudlin while watching Julien Temple's excellent documentary on the Sex Pistols, The Filth and the Fury (Fine Line Features).

When American youth surround themselves in bubble gum music and hair gel, I pity them for not having had Johnny "Rotten" Lydon scream at them about the future. "Why so angry, Johnny?" the kids would ask. And you get it within the first ten minutes of the film, when members of the band talk about an undeclared caste system in England, where a child's future was foretold with rats and trash and broken glass.

The press claimed that the Sex Pistols, and the entire punk movement, was an underculture of safety pins, mohawk haircuts, rage, drugs, and sex. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Funny how politics was never really discussed. You don't write "God Save the Queen" and piss off fifty million people during her majesty's jubilee celebration if you're not attempting to make a political statement. Why go through the hassle? According to Lydon, he did it because he loved England. And I, for one, believe him.

If you think punk is the antithesis of humanity, watch The Filth and the Fury. You'll come to realize that punk was one of the great musical breakthroughs of the twentieth century. With three chords and some effort, you could get your point across.

If you want to see the antithesis, just check out the docudramacrapfest Making of the Band (ABC, Friday nights). From tryouts to final product, wannabe boy band members alternately grovel and bitch to get a shot at the big time. It's so phony, yet you're mesmerized by how these five youths care only about the money and the fame and the babes and more money.

By contrast, the thoroughly authentic Sex Pistols rattled away, all the while being mowed down by the press and the government.

Ironically, what killed the Sex Pistols (and, quite literally, Sid Vicious) was their own stardom. Punk became a fashion statement. Anarchy became less about overcoming political oppression and more about wearing torn pants and leather jackets and obtaining free sex and drugs. Originally, Lydon says he pinned his trousers because he couldn't afford to buy new ones. His clothes were ripped because that's all he had.

By the time they reach San Francisco in 1978, the band members have a startling look of loathing and pain on their faces. Sid Vicious, strung out on heroin, pogos and sneers, but his bass isn't plugged in half the time. Paul Cook and Steve Jones, drummer and guitarist, strain to feign any interest. Johnny Rotten, well, looks as though he realizes there really isn't any future, for anybody. Not him. Not the band. Certainly not Sid. And the crowd? Nah, they're waiting to be spit on, because anarchy had somehow become synonymous with the expulsion of bodily fluids and a boot to the head.

The Sex Pistols started off attempting to be themselves and control their destiny, and, yes, have a bit of fun, but ended up being told by Malcolm McLaren, their manager, that they were, after all, his living, breathing sculptures.

This is not Temple's first documentary on the Sex Pistols. Indeed, The Great Rock `n' Roll Swindle, which he directed more than twenty years ago, was a vehicle for McLaren to spin and weave a tale of his genius and thus was unencumbered by the truth. And Lydon's refusal to participate in that film rendered it useless.

This time, Lydon participates, as does everyone else, giving us a clear picture of the unmaking of a band that mattered.
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Author:McKissack, Fred
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Aug 1, 2000
Words:618
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