The Filth and the Fury

Anarchy in the UK: The Sex Pistols challenged the British establishment in all its forms through the late '70s.

dir Julien Temple
with Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Glen Matlock, Malcolm McLaren, Laurence Olivier, Tommy Cooper, Ronnie Corbett, Ken Dodd, Rod Hull, Benny Hill
FilmFour 00/UK 3.5 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
Finally putting the record straight, Julien Temple draws on hours of lost footage, home movies and interviews to assemble an insightful and ultimately moving documentary about the rise and fall of the Sex Pistols in the mid-to-late '70s. The Filth and the Fury takes its title from a newspaper headline about the band, which delighted in offending audiences and challenging perceptions with their anti-establishment words and music. It's certainly a striking film, compiled with skill and artistry but a bit fragmented for a newcomer to follow. (I spent these years in Ecuador, so this was all new to me!)

What's most interesting is the way it debunks the myths created by the band's manager McLaren, who was deliberately excluded from the making of this film (and is represented here rather cruelly). It's quite clear that Temple and the band are still angry about McLaren's version of events in the1986 film Sid & Nancy. Now with this film we see the Pistols as ordinary guys, most of whom weren't terribly musical, who got together to express their rage at the system and suddenly found themselves thrust into the spotlight. Their glee at causing ripples of condemnation throughout society is infectious, as is their sheer energy and verve.

The film is extremely well-edited with unearthed concert footage, insightful private film and audio that lets the main figures narrate their own story. New and old interviews with the surviving band members are cleverly interspersed with unseen footage of the late Sid Vicious to give a remarkable overall picture, especially as the band self-destructs. The only problem lies in the structure, which is one of Temple's ongoing weaknesses, as he seems to get too closely involved in his films to make them terribly accessible to outsiders. The Richard III metaphor (it's crosscut with scenes from Olivier's 1955 film) is especially forced. But even so, it has a real emotional power as we see how the events impact the Pistols themselves. We actually like--and empathise with--these ill-tempered brats! And in this sense, it's a must-see for music fans, whether you revere the Sex Pistols or not.

[15--strong language, vulgarity] 30.Mar.00
UK release 12.May.00

Other music docs by Temple: GLASTONBURY (2006) | THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN (2007)

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© 2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall