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The Filth and the Fury: A Sex Pistols Film (DVD)

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Genre: Documentary - History / Theatrical Release: 2000 / Director: Julien Temple / Actors: Jordan (III), Steven Severin ... / DVD released 10 October, 2000 at New Line Home Video / Features of the DVD: Closed-captioned, Colour, Dolby, DVD-Video, Letterboxed, Widescreen, NTSC

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

    9 Reviews
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      02.10.2011 13:34
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      A first rate, scummy, angry, revitalizing documentary.

      The opening montage of Julien Temple's "The Filth and the Fury" is like getting sucked through your screen and down a time tunnel to the Seventies. Static, then focus on BBC One's old revolving globe. The announcer tells us it's time for a late look at the weather, and then over to poor old Michael Fish, who's having trouble getting his "weather" to stick to the map of Britain.

      Then it's over to Johnny Rotten, who gives a brief introduction over the opening credits. In his distinctively sneering and lucid way, he gives a few thoughts on what it's like to be in a band, how much hard work it is, concluding: "We managed to offend all the people we were f*cking fed up with."

      Temple's previous documentary about the Sex Pistols, 1980's "The Great Rock n' Roll Swindle" was biased in favor of the Pistol's shamelessly self-promoting manager, Malcolm McLaren, and was perhaps made too close to the events and initial fame of the band.

      "The Filth and the Fury" gets to look at the Sex Pistols phenomenon down the length of a further twenty years of history, and Temple allows the remaining band members to tell their side of the story, albeit in silhouette, as if they're somehow protecting their identities.

      As you'd expect, Johnny Rotten (aka John Lydon, now making lucrative butter commercials) gets most of the choice lines, although guitarist Steve Jones, who instigated the scandalised "Filth and the Fury" headlines which shot the band into the stratosphere by swearing on live TV, runs Rotten a pretty close second.

      It's Rotten's voice and viewpoint that is the predominant feature, and he also gives a narrative of Britain in the Seventies. Here it is shown as a grotty, wheezing, failing country of derelict tenements and grim blocks of flats, betrayed by a Labour government out of touch with what is going on in the country around them. (....!)

      It's a Britain of grim, relentless unemployment and rubbish piled up in the streets, riots and powercuts. "When you feel powerless, you will grab any power you can to retain some kind of self respect."

      Rotten describes this time of social upheaval as the seed of the Sex Pistols; as he says: "I don't think you can explain how things happen, other than sometimes they just should. The Sex Pistols should have happened, and did."

      These opening moments are perhaps the strongest part of the documentary, giving such an urgent feel of time and place, the newsreel footage intercut with TV commercials for Cadburys Flake and soap powder, and clips of Laurence Olivier being deliciously despicable as Richard III, who Rotten compared his performances to.

      This feels like the Britain I grew up in, even though I was a few days short of my first birthday when Sid Vicious died, so wasn't really conscious of the world around me until well into the early Eighties. But the country felt the same to me as it looks like in this opening montage, and a lot of the detritus from the Seventies washed through and was recycled even as I was a child - the telly still finished at midnight, Charley the cat was still telling us not to go off with strangers, and men in tights were still teaching us the green cross code.

      The band members give a brief overview of their working class childhoods, tales of poverty and petty theft in the ramshackle estates of London; then how they grew up in awe of the likes of David Bowie and Roxy Music - "I thought musicians fell from the sky." Jones remembers.

      The group gradually formed, with Jones and Cook self-teaching how to play on knocked off or stolen equipment, and became friendly with McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, who ran a counter-culture clothing store on King's Road at the time.

      McLaren is a presence in the film, although not in any talking head form like the rest of the band; there are clips of him spouting his usual pretentious nonsense. After his shop transformed to "SEX", selling rubberwear and fetish gear, McLaren is portrayed in the rest of the documentary as a looming inflatable gimp mask.

      However, under McLaren's tutelage, the band gradually formed, dropping some original members, and almost by accident picking up a lead singer in Rotten, who hadn't even sang before but got the gig because of his distinctive look and attitude. "I always did view myself as one ugly f*cker." admits Rotten, and this self-effacement or self-loathing transformed into his grotesque postures and bug-eyed, snarling performances as the Sex Pistols' frontman.

      After initial distrust - Jones' first impression of Lydon: "I thought he was a w*nker for taking the p*ss." the band eventually came together. Lydon wistfully remembers: "We were the very first people to call each other c*nts."

      There's plenty of early footage of the band playing in grubby pubs and clubs, and of the scene that sprouted up around them - including a very young looking Billy Idol and Shane MacGowan. Rotten continues by describing their performances as music hall, and identifies the vein of humour that runs through the core of "Englishness".

      And then, to fame - "The first line I wrote was: I am an anti-christ." remembers Lydon, the first line of "Anarchy in the UK", their first hit that ushered them towards a two year record deal with EMI and a clash with Bill Grundy, the lecherous old school host of ITV's "Today" programme, which in turn would lead them to headline-grabbing infamy.

      The Sex Pistols were already attracting negative press by that point; the Britain of the Seventies was deeply mired in the prudishness and hypocrisy of the stuffy, buttoned up establishment, who saw the Pistols and their spotty, filthy-looking followers as a threat to the neatly established order.

      The Grundy incident is replayed in full, as the tatty, edgy Sex Pistols and a few groupies - including Siouxsie Sioux - are offhandly introduced by a brusque, drunk and arrogant Bill Grundy. The first swear word is overlooked by the host - "because he was drunk himself, and wasn't paying attention." according to Jones - but when Lydon utters "Shit." and Grundy latches on. Lydon clearly realises his mistake and tries to gloss over it, but Grundy makes him say it again, telling him off like a headmaster talking to a naughty schoolboy.

      When Grundy then appears to hit on Siouxsie Sioux, suggesting meeting up backstage, Jones apparently leaps in to defend her honour, lashing into Grundy, calling him a "dirty old bastard" and a "f*cking rotter."

      Looking back, it's easy to feel Jones' reaction to Grundy's smug and complete lack of respect was completely justified. Of course, Britain was a very different country then, and the Pistols' uncouth look and attitude on national TV was seen as an affront to decency and stuck up, old fashioned morals, and the papers went to town on them.

      The middle section of the documentary covers the band's simultaneous rise to fame and infamy - approximately in equal measures - including one hilariously Orwellian moment when there officially wasn't a UK Chart number One. "God Save the Queen" was banned, so Number One slot was left blank when they topped the Charts with the song.

      It also covers the introduction of Sid Vicious to the band. Vicious was a poorly educated, occasionally violent friend of Rotten, and the band's number one fan. Vicious could only play a few chords when he replaced bass player Glen Matlock, who left the band after fall outs with Rotten and becoming uncomfortable with the direction the Pistols were going in.

      Vicious perhaps became even more synonymous with The Sex Pistols than Rotten, with his looks and attitude making him a punk icon. Even as the pressure of fame began to show on the band, and cracks started to appear, each member was fairly unanimous in their utter condemnation and hate towards Nancy Spungen, an American heroin-addict and sometime prostitute who hooked Vicious on the drug, leading to his addiction and downward spiral. After the band split, he was arrested for stabbing her to death in a hotel bathroom. He was released on bail and died of a heroin overdose.

      The most poignant moments of the documentary relate to Vicious's decline, and Johnny Rotten, in his comments on him, reveal a man still plagued by guilt and regret for not being able to protect his friend.

      It's in these moments you realise most powerfully that the Sex Pistols weren't the anarchic, violent menace to society they were portrayed at the time - they were kids, products of that society, who were angry and fed up and were willing to shout down a microphone and let everyone know it. They were kids, and they were the most famous and infamous people in Britain, and they weren't being looked after by anyone. While labels were cashing in, Rotten was left to walk the streets by himself, and was stabbed in a brutal attack by skinheads.

      The Sex Pistols ended on 14th January, 1978 at a gig in San Francisco. Divided, Vicious back on the smack and Rotten increasingly demoralised by McLaren's handling of the band, they ended with a defeated Rotten singing "No Fun" and ending by asking the audience, "Ever felt like you've been cheated?"

      "The Filth and the Fury" is perhaps ten minutes too long, but is an essential film for anyone even remotely interested in one of the most influential bands who ever "happened". Even if you're not into punk, music, or "The Sex Pistols", you should maybe watch it anyway, because it's a damn good story.

      Of all the characters, Rotten comes across the best - apart from his lacerating wit and shrewd, hard-won wisdom, there's something generous about his honesty and scorn, and a truthfulness to his hatred and dismay - particularly that felt towards McLaren and those he felt cashed in on the band, and Vicious' addiction and death.

      It is fitting that he finishes with the final line, "All I wish is for future generations to go, 'F*ck it! I've had enough! Here's the truth!", and you can't help get the feeling we are starting to see that happening now, in a different form, with the August riots.

      I've lived abroad for almost three years, and viewed from overseas, Britain looks more and more like the Britain shown in the clips at the beginning of this documentary. All I see when I go home to visit is a country regressing to how I remember it when I was growing up, but with more shops boarded up and more holes in the road.

      And the youths rioting in London, smashing up shops and nicking what they could get hold of, more and more look like a youth betrayed and ignored by an ineffective, apathetic government. Lydon says things can't always be explained, and happen because they should...I can't help feeling the London riots "should" have happened. Who knows, perhaps out of all this, we might get another Sex Pistols?

      (Review first posted on Ciao! as Midwinter.)

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        15.06.2011 15:12
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        It's pretty good!

        The Sex Pistols. They made a great record but you wouldn't have wanted to share a house with them. The Filth and the Fury is a 2000 documentary film by Julien Temple. The previous film about the infamous group (The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle) was the story from the perspective of their wild haired eccentric manager Malcom McLaren. McLaren claimed it was all some situationist arty prank of his own making and they were mere puppets plucked from the street and turned into a media storm by his Machiavellian genius. Or something. To be honest, I never quite knew what Malcom McLaren was ever going on about, interesting character though he was. The Filth and the Fury allows the group to tell the story for themselves and - unsurprisingly - McLaren doesn't come out of it terribly well at times. The general gist is that he vastly inflated his own role in the grand scheme of things and never gave John Lydon the credit he deserved. Lydon is at pains to make clear HE invented himself. "What you've seen in any documentary about any band, before or since, is how great and wonderful everything is," says Lydon at the start of the documentary. "That's not the truth of it. It's hell, it's hard, it's horrible. It's enjoyable to a small degree. But if you know what you're doing it for, you'll tolerate all that. Because the work, at the end of the day, is what matters... and we managed to offend all the people we were (beep!) fed up with."

        The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle was fairly mad if I remember and, save for a memorable rendition of My Way by Sid Vicious, a bit of a slog in the end. The Filth and the Fury is much better and contains a lot of fascinating archive film as we are transported back to the seventies. It's a time of rubbish piled up in the streets, strikes, comedians in bow ties, the Queen's Jubilee, and (no great change here) class divisions. Some of the footage is a bit grim but it's always compelling - especially some of their shows in the United States and encounters with hostile crowds. I can't take too much though of a bedraggled Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen mumbling incoherently away in a druggy haze without feeling a tremendous urge to go and have a giant bath. There is all the stuff here you might expect and it's always interesting to view again. The boat ride down the Thames that ended with a police raid and car crash television as Bill Grundy interviews the group ("Nothing, a rude word. Next question..."). Grundy was obviously not their biggest fan (no, honestly) and somehow ending up practically inviting them to swear on air (which they of course did) with his mocking and patronising tone.

        It's an absorbing and interesting film that presents another version of the story of The Sex Pistols, stressing the DIY ethic to what they did and how they inspired others to do the same (though most of the copycats were dreadful). John Lydon is the heart of the film and talks about how his Johnny Rotten persona was inspired by Oliver playing Richard III. He almost sheds a tear when he remembers the death of Sid Vicious ("All I can tell you is I could take on England, but I couldn't take on one heroin addict...") and we see footage of him handing out cake to children at a benefit show for striking firemen in the seventies. He was public enemy number one at the time so these acts of charity obviously didn't make it into the press much. The film offers a social and cultural history of the times but the music is of course a huge part of The Filth and the Fury. Scruffy herberts they might have been but they had some good songs.

        The Sex Pistols themselves (for reasons that escape me) are interviewed in silhouette as if they are in the witness protection programme or something and Lydon and Matlock are always interesting talking about the demise of the group. The other one is rather more prosaic. The title of the film is taken from a Daily Mirror headline and the documentary has ample evidence of just how much certain sections of society got their knickers in a twist over them. "The best thing that could happen to these people," says a councilor in the film. "Is death." Bit harsh surely! The film charts the course of the group from their origins to the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco where it all came to an end (they reformed in the nineties for some shows but that was obviously not really the same). The Filth and the Fury is an entertaining and enjoyable documentary film and really captures the period and the media furore that The Sex Pistols provoked. It's unavoidably a bit grim in places but there is a lot of humour too and the footage has all been edited together and presented with great care and thought.

        This is good on the whole although not the longest documentary ever made (comfortably clocking in at under 2 hours). It's certainly worth a look and at the time of writing can be purchased new from £7 and used for a lot less.

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          06.08.2008 20:49
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          An extras-laden DVD would be much appreciated. The film is truly spectacular.

          Julian Temple's extraordinary tapestry of archive film, period television, fresh interviews and Richard III is one of the very best rockumentaries of all time. Like Don't Look Back, Let It Be or the recent Dig!, Some Kind Of Monster and The Devil And Daniel Johnston, the film succeeds in proving captivating and enthralling even if one couldn't care less about the work of the artists under consideration.

          That The Filth And The Fury is so wildly entertaining is a miracle in itself, given the sheer volume of Sex Pistols-related documentaries, magazine articles, books, retrospectives and re-appraisals offered since their disbanding post-Great Rock N Roll Swindle (Temple's earlier, much-maligned, venture with the band, for which The Filth And The Fury serves almost as an apology). Like the band, the film is ruthless in its adaptation of the Old in pursuit of the New - a plethora of vintage adverts, television broadcasts, radio jingles and news footage careers past, the result being that the viewer finds him or herself firmly rooted in the late-1970's England (and, briefly, America) where the bulk of the story takes place.

          In addition, we are treated to some truly astounding footage, from incredibly poignant interviews with Sid Vicious (and a heartbreaking present day response to such from John Lydon) to bloodied, ragged live footage to hilarious TV and radio interviews.

          Throughout, we are left in no doubt as to who the stars are - not the middle-aged gentlemen filmed in silhouette recounting their myriad exploits - rather, the stars are the exploits themselves. The Sex Pistols were about myth-making as much as myth-destroying, and Temple totally understands this. His film is an analysis of a myth. That there were real, human beings involved who still live and work today is, for the most part, utterly irrelevant.

          A stunning film, in many ways superior to Temple's recent, rightly-acclaimed, Joe Strummer documentary.

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            29.10.2000 14:53
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            Contrary to popular opinion, I didn't really like this documentary. Being a big Sex Pistols fan I was really looking forward to seeing it, but when I did I was really disappointed. This film does not show you anything that you haven't really seen before (if you are a Sex Pistols fan). It does include much more one2one interviewing with the band members, Johnny Rotten in particular, but what they say they have said before. This is not an in-depth look at what it was to be the Sex Pistols, it is a broad overview of why the Sex Pistols came to be what they did and why they broke up. I am willing to concede that 2 hours is not long enough to cover anything in that much detail, but after the hype about this film and the rave reviews it received, I was disappointed.

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            22.10.2000 22:48
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            Absolutely amazing! This film is truly the holy grail for any Sex Pistols fanatic! Until now fans had to settle for the awful 'Great Rock and Roll Swindle'. Yet now we have a film that features footage of Johnny Rotten singing 'God save the Queen' in the studio, Sid talking frankly after the death of Nancy, very early pre-Anarchy tour footage, and even their first gig! Director and life long friend of the Band Julien Temploe's work on this film is very enthusiastic as he incorporates footage of late 70's television advertisments and news fotage into the documentry. It is not just a film about a band but also an important document of the social climate of the late 70's. We even view Johnny Rotten drop his usual attitude towards Sid Vicious when he breaks into tears when he talks about the tragic death of his old friend. By the end you will have been shocked, thrilled, and finally touched and moved. Any self respecting music fan should own this amazing insight into very possibly the greatest and most influencial band of all time.

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            14.10.2000 01:06
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            Undeniably one of the greatest rockumentaries of the year (and possibly of all time) has to be 'The Filth & The Fury' - a film made by the same man who bought us The Sex Pistols' Malcolm McLaren's (their manager) view of the band ages ago in 'The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle'. This time however, 20yrs, the band themselves get a chance to unlock the myths of The Sex Pistols, even if singer/frontman John (then Johnny Rotten) Lydon's viewpoint is the most outstanding, and leaving other members accounts seem as if they're trailing or lingering, but even so Lydon's account will be of most interest as he was the figure-head of the band, aside from the deceased Sid Vicious. The film (I'm referring to the DVD version) begins by recalling the days of the Labour governed 70's, a time for promise and change - but all that resulted was turmoil and heartache. There was no future unless you were "born into money" to quote guitarist Steve Jones. London was boiling with social strife, race hate, no opportunites, and no questions. It was enough to piss anybody off, particularly snarly teenager John Lydon, who beforehand had been as quiet as a "church mouse", and had lost all memory after falling victim to Meningitis - which put him in a coma for a year at age seven. Guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook were local mates from Shepherd's Bush, from wounded backgrounds who used to attend Ska music parties together, and from one initial meeting with one Wally Nightingale, the template of The Sex Pistols began and became managed by co-Sex shop owner Malcolm McLaren. Over time, John Lydon (of a group of North London 'Johns!') was drafted in as vocalist, and christened Rotten for his "dog end" teeth; uncomformist look, and general attitude. The band and Rotten didn't hit it off well at the start, and sadly by the end didn't aswell. To replace Wally, bassist Glen Matloc
            k was grafted in, who pretty much wrote most of the band's tunes and gave them their musical direction - but this was ommitted. Most of the footage about Glen was about the "twat". Unsurprisingly then, Glen is no longer with The Sex Pistols and Rotten brings in another friend (and fan of the band) by the name of John to play (lacklustre) bass for them. This John soon becomes Sid Vicious - a moniker born out of the first part of one of Rotten's pets that bit John, and the second bit because of his "vicious" attitude to a stoned ex-NME journalist. The film charts the band's accounts on McLaren's manipulation (who bizarrely appears in the film in old footage wearing some weird rubber head gear - there's a bit of kinkiness in the film) from start to finish, aswell as their career. Aswell as accounting the story - heard in many circles, what's unique to this video is the emotions in these personal accounts by the band members. Particularly moving is John Lydon now, wiping a tear off while talking about the death of Sid. Also to point out, all modern interview footage of the band is filmed in silhoutte - possibly because aged mugs might destroy the documentary aura? Glen Matlock seems a bit miffed in taking part in this documentary I thought, but you can't blame him, for his portrayal. Paul Cook adds some interesting incites the most into the music and imagery (and appears in the laughable McLaren movie 'Who Killed Bambi?' - featuring a young Sting), and it was a shame he didn't talk as much, while Steve Jones was frank in saying that during the life of the band all he wanted was oral sex. Not forgetting Vicious however, as he's rekindled in old footage in a park somewhere. Most of what Vicious says is funny and humorous. The band's rise from a twisted cover band to their own individual fleet is all concisely documented, and dotted with bits of 70's TV programmes, footage of the monarchy,
            British comedy and the film of 'Richard III' - and with the obligatory news talk/show footage of this 'filthy' new band, and grappling with EMI and A&M records before nestling with Virgin - who Johnny Rotten friendly dubbed their boss Richard Branson as "looking like catweasel(?)" Also quite funny looking is seeing Rotten hand a little girl some cake with a smile at a (on strike) Firemen's children benefit ball. More funny though is some audience members like Shane McGowan and Siouxie (she of the Banshees) in the days before forming their own bands. The band's hit 'God Save The Queen' (played in full here) is possibly the most sniping bit of the film. The song wasn't about hating England, it was about loving it - but being fed up with society. All Lydon's lyrics were true, but they were baited like martyrs. Subsequently the song which topped number 1 during Queen Elizabeth's Jubliee - was deleted from the charts (hence there was no number that week, the highest there was 'Hotel California' at number 2). The band then play their final series of UK gigs (under a new moniker, as they'd been banned from most places by then) before heading to America - not before spitting at how uniform the punk scene had become. Punk was all about individuality, but by then it'd become re-established into the "shitstem" to quote Rotten, and being a punk had become all about leather jackets, and safety pins and mohwaks, poor trashy follow-up loud punk bands with no clue - Punk was all DIY, but it'd become chic, branded and acceptable now - the point was lost due to the moronic punk movers. The band's short tour of America was pretty much open implosion for the band (who lasted a mere 26 months - but the legacy forever). Rotten's famous last gig quote "Ever feel you've been cheated?" rings well here, and is accompanied by sadness onstage, as with their manager screwing the
            m around continually, Rotten getting an ego and Sid messing up on drugs - Steve and Paul call it a day, and the band splits - they might've gone on according to Steve, had he not sided with long-time friend McLaren then. And so Rotten slips out of the limelight (for the time being). The documentary then turns from revolutionary and controversial into harrowing with Sid's demise on Heroine - and his American drug dealer/girlfriend Nancy Spungen weighing him down and drifting him from the band. Sid was accused of her stabbing her to death, and then not long after committed suicide via a heroine overdose. You could see it was going happen due to the footage of Sid before then. This was the final nail in the coffin for the Pistols. they "ended at the right time, but for all the wrong reasons" - and they returned on this video to debunk myths and set the record straight, atleast according to Lydon (who refers to Rotten almost like a dead alter-ego) - and what an interesting and frank view it was! You don't have to be a Pistols fan to want to watch this, but that'll probably be the most stimulating thing - but as on the video's liner notes, this is all about power rather than music. A reminder that people shouldn't accept what they think's not right and go against it. It's about power, self-respect and individuality. Everybody is important, everybody can do something - and "a band like The Sex Pistols should've happened, and did" - And thank goodness for that, or we'd still be repressed and listening to Bay City Rollers like tripe...Oh we are! The DVD version comes with a directory's commentary option and the original theatrical film trailer, and in widescreen. I suggest you buy it, or I'll have to say a rude word...Under 15's close your ears now!

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            19.08.2000 01:36
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            If this film is showing anywhere near you I recommend that you go and see it. The Sex Pistols' history is marred by the fight between Lydon and Malcolm McLaren. This film shows both sides of the argument, and of course Lydon comes off best, showing that he genuinely believed in what the Sex Pistols were trying to do and was not trying to cynically manipulate the public. This film also gives some good indications as to why exactly punk music came about, and why it was so shortlived. The social conditions of the mid-70s, and the appalling pap that passed for "entertainment" (Dick Emery show etc) are shown in soundbites. Together with shots of the Pistols in concert, and following the sad decline of Sid Vicious, this film is both informative, entertaining, funny and sad. I especially like the comparison with "Richard III" made throughout the film. Even if you don't like punk, go and see this film, which shows that it was the media, police and establishment that were the real "offensive" people, not the Sex Pistols themselves. It will shock you!

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            26.07.2000 18:44
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            This is a fantastic documentary about legendary punk group, the Sex Pistols. Whether or not you actually like the Sex Pistols is irrelevant because like them or not you'll love this film. It not only documents the rise and fall of the group and the whole punk scene but also chronicles the state of English culture and society at the time. It shows how punk was not just a reaction to the music that was around in the late seventies but also a reaction to the politics and the general feeling of discontent amongst the young and disenchanted of the time. As a social document this film is superb. If, on top of that, you are into the music then this is genuinely unmissable!

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            30.06.2000 07:47

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            The Filth and the Fury is probably going to be the most succeful documentary film of the year, as millions of Sex Pistols fans are driven into independent cinemas to see the Filth and the Fury, the latest documentary about the Sex Pistols. Produced by Johnny Rotten and directed by his mate 'Jules', this film tells you exactley what punk was about by the peope that started the craze (not the genre, the craze, before any fussy people leave a comment saying 'well actually...')You learn exactley what was in the heads of these people, what the politics were about, how much Malcom Maclaren wasn't the best manager in the world, everything is explained to you properly for the very first time. The Filth and the Fury captures perfectly the history, politics and energy that was punk. This film is for all fans of the band, all fans of the genre, all fans of music, and people every where who don't even know why punk was called punk, never mind anything about it. The only thing that could have been better is that it was very one sided and Maclaren didn't get much of a chance to speak without being mocked, although when he did he only incriminated himself even further. "They were my little project, my little artful dodgers"

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        • Product Details

          A film about the career of the notorious punk rock band, the Sex Pistols - uncut, unseen, unbelievable.