The Filth And The Fury

on March 29, 2000 by Annlee Ellingson
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   Julien Temple's self-important "The Filth and the Fury" examines the Sex Pistols' swift rise to fame and even swifter fall, lasting a scant 26 months as a band. Having directed "The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle" in 1980, another Sex Pistols documentary told from the point of view of the group's manager, Malcolm McLaren, Temple this time chooses to tell their story directly from the horse's mouth, interviewing the remaining members of the band. Meeting in the 1970s, Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Paul Cook, Glen Matlock and later Sid Vicious, disillusioned by the post-war lack of concern for the British working class, band together to cover '60s songs and tell the truth. They rocket to stardom, especially after they shock the nation when, encouraged by the show's host, they use foul language in a live television interview. Music labels were quick to sign them, recognizing their new look, sound and attitude, and even quicker to drop them after their behavior became too outrageous to explain away in the press.

   The ride did not last long: The band stayed together just over two years and produced only one album, eventually getting banned from clubs in England and feared in venues in the United States, and in 1979, Vicious died of a heroin overdose.

   Temple situates the Sex Pistols in history by juxtaposing photos, interviews and concert footage with scenes of the social strife taking place at the time and contemporary clips from commercials and sitcoms. Interestingly, his interview subjects are masked in shadow, giving their testimony an anonymous air.

   Unfortunately, any external observations of the band by the press or otherwise are mocked, limiting the film's objectivity and resulting in a conceited account of the band's influence and importance, exemplified by the members' comparison to Richard III and playing their song "Anti-Christ" in accompaniment to riot footage. Ironically, the Sex Pistols did not seem to recognize the irony in singing about anarchy and signing bigger and bigger contracts with each new label. They expounded on the importance of telling the truth, but the truth is their story is hardly as compelling as they would like it to be. Starring the Sex Pistols. Directed by Julien Temple. Produced by Anita Camarata and Amanda Temple. Documentary. A Fine Line release. Rated R for pervasive strong language, drugs and sexual content. Running time: 105 min

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