Monday, June 11, 2007

THE FILTH AND THE FURY - two wrongs don't make a right

In the late 70s, the UK was suffering race riots, mass unemployment, mass strikes and teetering on the brink of chaos. To hear Johnny Rotten tell it, it was only a matter of time before a bunch of disillusioned working class lads grabbed some guitars and attacked all the institutions that had robbed them of a future. To hear his ex-manager, Malcolm Maclaren tell it, there was no spontaneous rock movement. Rather, it was all a lucrative hoax perpetrated on dumb consumers with Maclaren as the genius-puppeteer. If bass player, Glen Matlock, were allowed to get a word in, he'd probably call them both arseholes.

Documentary film-maker Julien Temple pandered to Maclaren's ego and genius for self-promotion with his 1980 film, THE GREAT ROCK'N'ROLL SWINDLE. It attempted to tell the story of the Sex Pistols phenomenon - the raw performances; the violence; the outrage; the break-up; Nancy Spudgeon's death; Sid Vicious' OD - from the point of view of a media event. It was a deeply partisan piece of work that was edifying only in terms of exploring Maclaren's genius for media manipulation years after the Pistols had imploded.

Then we had the 1986 drama, SID AND NANCY, which focused on the internal life of the lovers whose story dominates the end of the phenomenon. They seemed like naive, infantile, damaged people who found solace and self-destruction in each other. Nancy may have given Sid his first hit of heroin, but it seemed less malicious than a lark.

Twenty years later, Julien Temple gave the Pistols there say in the doc, THE FILTH AND THE FURY. Predictably, there's a lot of cursing at Maclaren's expense and between the various members of the band. In fact, the only thing that seems to unite them all is a hatred of Nancy Spudgeon. They characterise her as a prositute, junkie and groupie, who got Sid hooked on smack and ruined the band. They have seemingly no sympathy for her tragic death.

It's not a great documentary. Sure, it's exhilerating to see the old concert footage, and eery to see interview-footage of Sid Vicious. But a documentary dominated by the opiniated Rotten is as biased and frustrating as a doc dominated by Maclaren. And there's something somehow gutless about a bunch of people slagging each other off without their faces being shown on screen. In fact, that's perhaps the most bizarre directorial choice Temples makes: to shoot the ex-Pistols against bright sunlight so that their faces are in the dark. For a band so mad for telling it how it is, this seems a curious obfuscation.

THE FILTH AND THE FURY was released in 2000 and is available on DVD.

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