There is nothing definitive about Julien Temple's The Filth & the Fury: A Sex Pistol's Film (2000) which is probably why he called it "A" Sex Pistol's film instead of "the" Sex Pistols film. It is also not the same-old same-old overview once again stitched together from a selection of finite archive footage of their performances & newsbites. It has Julien's individuality as a rockumentarian all over it.
Which is not to say it's always successful in its unpretentious intent. Given the extreme power of the subject, it's surprising how often Julien's film gets tedious, generally when the Pistols are off screen. Only when they're right in front of the camera is it riveting.
This document of a short inspiring career begins with a long patch (almost half an hour) of "history of England" as a context out of which the Pistols arose. This is awful padding & only rarely the perfect counterpoint to who the Pistols were & what they represented.
The second half hour brings in more that is relevant to the music of an era, or a movement to which the Sex Pistols were of special relevance. But there's still way too much padding that is apropos of nothing, & considerably less of the Pistols than a viewer hopes for.
The remaining 45 minutes brings us through the two key years of the Sex Pistols career & this stuff is exciting. In archival footage from sundry sources, Syd, Johnny, Steve, Paul & Glen have lost none of their feeling of edginess. If this band arose from out of the unknown today, they'd still be dangerous & extreme.
Johnny Rotten sounds as intelligently angry as he did when we were all young. Syd seems a little crazier than we might have preferred to remember him, & in fragments of interviews very late in his life, Syd's tragedy is revealed as boundless & unfortunate rather than the Romanticist event many have tried to make of it.
But even through this great part of the film, it's padded with lots of clips from sundry absurdist British comedy acts of the Benny Hill type. A little of that might've been taken as commentary, a reminder that it's all one big bullshit joke whether you live or die. But there are too many of these silly clips & they get in the way of the film's subject, plus they define as trashily British what was eventually international in scope & appreciation.
Update interviews by Justin of the remaining Pistols are framed as silhouettes, so we don't get to see the aging faces, or expressions. These have the impact of radio interviews, a little disappointing, but it does preserve the image of the Pistols as of the late 1970s & not about geezers today.
Flawed or odd as it may be, The Filth & the Fury is a good documentary. By the end I felt like I'd gotten more out of it than a chance to wallow in nostalgia. It captured something authentic about the time & the band.
And it made me feel as if I personally have been societally pressured into a degree of conformity if only because it's been so many years since every phrase out of my mouth had fook me & fook you in it. In the update interview with Johnny Rotten in silhouette, he's still Johnny Rotten, still emotional, angry, & vulgar, society having yet to take him all the way down.
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