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"The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle" is a 1980 film that was written and directed by Julien Temple, which revolved around the British punk rock band, the Sex Pistols. The film stars Malcolm McLaren who was the band's manager, as well as the band themselves: Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones, Sid Vicious and Paul Cook. There are also cameo appearances from Ed Tudor-Pole, Ronnie Biggs, Irene Handl and archive footage from Glen Matlock, who played bass in the band before Sid Vicious.
The plot reads as follows: A rather incoherent post-breakup Sex Pistols "documentary", told from the point of view of Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.
I think I've always been a fan of the Sex Pistols, even from a very early age when I didn't know much about their music, so I was delighted when I found out about this film's existence some years later when I had outgrown childhood. I like heavy metal but I also like punk, and this album goes back to the very roots of punk rock in the UK during the mid to late 1970s. The film starts with an image of Malcolm McLaren in a rubber fetish suit as he talks about how he got the band together. McLaren is a prominent figure throughout the film, and he talks frequently about how to make money by selling the product (in this case, the band) and making them as obnoxious as possible. McLaren said: "You couldn't see them play anywhere and the radios wouldn't play their songs." McLaren had a way with words, and at one point he's heard to say "call all hippies boring old farts and set light to them" during a speech on how to gain notoriety.
There is a great scene near the start of the film which portrays London riots in 1780 where the mob hang and burn effigies of the Sex Pistols. It's worth noting that although Johnny Rotten is included, he'd quit the band before the film was made. He and Glen Matlock both appear in archive footage only, and the titular song is meant to engineer a replacement for Johnny (real name John Lydon) with people auditioning the song. According to legend, Ed Tudor-Pole, under the persona of Tenpole Tudor, won the audition.
There is some excellent live footage of the Pistols included in the film, which is definitely worth watching for that alone. Of course, you could say the ultimate swindle was Malcolm McLaren singing "You Need Hands". Malcolm was an egotist at the best of times, but this version doesn't do the film any justice at all. The animations are very good, too, ranging from "Bodies" to the film's closing song, "Friggin' in the Riggin'".
There is also the iconic footage of the band sailing down the Thames during the Queen's Jubilee in 1977 playing "God Save the Queen", as well as the band's last ever gig in San Francisco in 1978 where Johnny Rotten utters the immortal words "ever get the feeling you're being cheated?" Some of the best moments, however, come courtesy of the cameo stars. I love Tenpole Tudor singing "Who Killed Bambi?" in the cinema foyer and Irene Handl as an usherette is simply wonderful. If the beaches of Brazil are your thing, Paul Cook and Steve Jones can be seen soaking up the sun with the notorious 'Great Train Robber', Ronnie Biggs. The latter also recorded a song for the film and album with the duo, entitled "Belsen Was a Gas".
In summary, and again in the words of Malcolm McLaren: "Find yourself four kids. Make sure they hate each other. Make sure they can't play." Well, I'm not entirely sure they couldn't play, with the exception of Sid Vicious who was actually a drummer, but I like his ideals here. He created the world's most outrageous band and made a mint in doing so. The Sex Pistols played some very good music, there is absolutely no doubt about that. Punk rock never reached the dizzy heights of the Pistols, except for the Ramones which was a completely different punk rock sound, but the animal McLaren created was pure genius. I absolutely recommend this film to anyone interested in what happened in the 1970s with this particular genre of music, but be warned: there is plenty of language and some full frontal nudity as well.
My rating: 8/10