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The Filth & The Fury

The Filth & The Fury
Movie review
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Aug. 4, 2005

Directed by Julien Temple
John Lydon, Sid Vicious, Steve Jones, Paul Cook, Glen Matlock, Malcolm McLaren

108 Minutes
Not Rated

Movie review by David Malsch

The Filth and the Fury is finally the definitive account of the notorious legend of the Sex Pistols. I've always considered them the forefathers of musical hype. Pop music today has quite possibly taken a page out of the Pistols handbook when it comes to manufacturing its slop. I have never been a fan of the Sex Pistols. I have however grown to respect the legend of the band the older I get. The Filth and the Fury cements that logic for me, it is the true account of the band themselves by themselves. In this era of reality television, the Pistols would rule the world; they would make the Osbournes out to be the Huxtables. With the Sex Pistols being the ultimate hype band, the question is posed- would there be an American Idol? It pains me to say this but there is slightly more talent involved with American Idol contestants compared to the Pistols, but that's not really the success of the show. It's the hype and nothing has taken in more attention or money than the selling of hype.

Julien Temple directs this documentary about his beloved Sex Pistols. In 1980, he directed The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle that told of another version of the Sex Pistols through the eyes of their ego-mad manager Malcolm McLaren. The Filth and the Fury was made to correct the mistakes and tell the real story of this band from London that took England by storm in 1976. The entire band tells the story of their brief existence through vintage interviews and through present day silhouettes. It's one of my favorite things about this film, how the remaining members are always in shadows telling their side of the story, keeping their young pimply faces the visual for the story.

For no other reason, the Sex Pistols were put on this earth to irritate the establishment. Nobody did it better than lead singer Johnny Rotten (John Lydon). He was as fiercely intelligent as he was a troublemaker, Rotten lived up to his name. Backed up my guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and bassist Glen Matlock, the Pistols with the assistance of McLaren began the assault on the U.K. Later, Matlock was replaced on bass by Sid Vicious and the legend began.

In 1977, Never Mind the Bullocks was released and the song "God Save the Queen" reached number one in the country only to be taken away from by the heads of the music business. For one week in England, there was a empty spot atop the U.K. charts that Rotten considered, in retrospect, a bigger honor than having the actual song there. They were banned from television and ripped apart by the press on a daily basis. They spit on fans from the stage and the fans in turn attacked the band. The Pistols were even released from a recording contract less than 24-hours after they signed it. In their brief 26-month existence, they insulted and reeked havoc on everyone, no one was safe from them. The Ramones may have paved the way for the Pistols, but they put the ugly sneering face to it.

The film contains a little too much Laurence Olivier's Richard III references and not enough of the animation it barely features. I would have also liked some sort of a nod to the greatest of the Ramones or at least some due credit. Too often, the Sex Pistols are solely credited with starting the whole movement. Beyond that it's a definitive and engrossing account of rock and roll history. I was lucky enough to be at the world premiere at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. I got to meet Lydon in the men's room of a party following the premiere. Little had changed from the personality depicted on screen to nearly 25 years later. It was appropriate to premiere this film in the country where they broke up during their first American tour and where Sid killed Nancy and eventually overdosed.

There are plenty of other places to travel in cinema following The Filth and the Fury. Alex Cox's brilliant 1986 film Sid and Nancy comes to mind first. There is also a terrific film called 24-Hour Party People that deals with yet another musical revolution in England, the rave culture of Manchester that produced bands like Happy Mondays and New Order. It brilliantly links the debut of the Pistols and the influence the band had on the artists that followed them. The Filth and the Fury also has some great cameos of those future artists like Billy Idol, Shane MacGowan, Siouxse Sioux and Sting.

Director Julien Temple's pure admiration and influence of the band are so clearly evident that you can't help but share in his enthusiasm for the band. There is probably no other filmmaker who could have or should have made this film. This band deserves their place in musical history and now they finally have a film to back it up.

Note: the DVD includes additional interviews, deleted scenes and commentary by Director Julien Temple.

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