Colin Gawel and Brian Phillips’ “Reelin’ & Rockin’ Film Series” at the Gateway Film Center on Wednesday (happy hour at 7 pm, film at 8 pm) is the Julien Temple-directed documentary on The Sex Pistols entitled “The Filth & The Fury.” It’s a pretty cool rock & roll movie about a band I never really liked.
My problem with The Sex Pistols was that I always found them more of an Art Project than a Rock & Roll Band. Anytime a rock combo gets assembled by a Manager, rather than built from the ground up by Rockers, I’m immediately suspect. And The Manager in this case, Malcolm McLaren (who had already run The New York Dolls into the ground, dressing them up in red patent leather and having them appear in front of a Soviet flag backdrop; quoth David Johansen, “We proved that you can be transvestite homosexuals in America, but you CANNOT be Communists.”) was a lot more interested in Art than Rocking.
In their roughly 26-month existence The Sex Pistols pulled off a lot of publicity stunts – disrupting the headliner’s sets when they were still an opening band (including Joe Strummer’s pre-Clash pub-rock band The 101-er’s), trashing their first record company’s offices (EMI) and, pivotally, going on an afternoon British TV talk show and being goaded into swearing at host Bill Grundy, which led to tabloid headline “The Filth & The Fury,” giving this documentary its title.
I have always wondered how punk-rock would have developed if it had been allowed to evolve as a musical movement rather than as a Cultural Phenomenon, as it was forced to after The Sex Pistols’ media debacle. Musically, I rate the Sex Pistols as having two GREAT songs – “Anarchy In The U.K.” and “God Save The Queen” – and two good songs – “Pretty Vacant” and “EMI.” “Holiday In The Sun” is an okay song but, crucially, rips off its main riff from The Jam’s “In The City,” a song that’s superior and (obviously) much more original in every way. That’s not a good count for a band with The Sex Pistols’ cachet, and their legend. They only ever recorded one album – “Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols” which would have translated in America as “Never mind the bullshit, here’s the Sex Pistols,” which, I admit, is kinda brilliant, but oh-so-Arty, and oh-so-British. (And whose Bright Idea was it to fire the only member in the band capable of writing songs, bassist Glen Matlock, before the album was released and before the band ever “toured” America.) (Don’t even get me started on that nightmare of naivete masquerading as a rock & roll tour, that’s a whole ‘nother blog in itself. Great book about it called “12 Days On The Road – The Sex Pistols and America” by Noel Monk & Jimmy Gutterman, published in 1990.)
I’ve always likened The Sex Pistols Story to that of Elvis Presley’s. With the original four members, including Matlock on bass, The Sex Pistols were a MUSICAL unit, a rock & roll band that played gigs and made records that got LISTENED to, analogous to the lean, mean Elvis in 1956 with Scotty Moore, Bill Black and D.J. Fontana rocking behind him. When Matlock was booted-out and non-musician Sid Vicious was drafted in (by all accounts at Johnny Rotten’s insistence) The Sex Pistols became a Pure Media Spectacle, a Malcolm McLaren Situationist Art Piece Fantasy, something to be LOOKED AT and WRITTEN ABOUT, a Rupert Murdoch Wet Dream, like Fat Elvis in 1976 Las Vegas, prancing around in sequin jumpsuits doing karate moves and slinging ballads like they were hash.
You should see this movie, you really should. Julien Temple knows his subject matter and genuinely CARES about his characters (as he also amply demonstrated in the Joe Strummer documentary “The Future Is Unwritten”), but give me The Ramones or The Clash over The Sex Pistols on my stereo any day. – Ricki C. / June 17th, 2013.