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'The Filth and the Fury'

Fascinating 'Filth': Director's second Pistols documentary looks back on the fury

Friday, June 02, 2000

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

If, at times, it seems suspiciously familiar, let the record state that "The Filth and the Fury" is Julien Temple's second stab at chronicling the meteoric rise and fall of what remains the most notorious band that ever mattered, the Sex Pistols. Not only that, but it actually shares a healthy chunk of footage -- even cartoons -- with his first attempt, "The Great Rock and Roll Swindle."

'The Filth And The Fury'

RATED: R for language, drugs, sex.

STARRING: Johnny Rotten, Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Glen Matlock, Sid Vicious.

DIRECTOR: Julien Temple.


CRITIC'S CALL: 3 1/2 stars


What's this, then? A second swindle?

Call it filthy lucre, if you will. But far from cashing in on punk nostalgia, what Temple has done with "The Filth and the Fury" is let the Pistols do the talking in a move that clearly contradicts the Malcolm-centric views expressed in 1980's "Swindle" (filmed when Temple was under the spell of the self-styled, egomaniacal Col. Tom Parker to the Pistols' Elvis, Malcolm McLaren).

What emerges, then, in interviews conducted with the four surviving members of the pre-Sid Vicious lineup is the far more historically accurate portrait of a flagship band that didn't need the help of any second-rate Svengali to lead a proper revolution.

The archival footage -- much of it culled from the band members' private collections, some of it outtakes from "Swindle" -- is reason enough to see the film. The sight of outraged British citizens and fuming politicians responding in horror to the Pistols' hilarious Queen-baiting antics is priceless stuff. The live performance clips, of course, are classic, capturing the essence of the band that changed the world in all its savage glory.

And it's great to hear the older, wiser punks reflecting from the vantage point of middle age on what we're seeing, Johnny Rotten pointing out "the haircut that got me thrown out of school" or reminiscing on his tryout for the band, an audition that found him singing along to Alice Cooper.

"I certainly weren't no belle of the ball," he cackles, unmistakably Rotten.

The highlight, from a laugh perspective, may be Rotten recalling the trouble it was to find an appropriate rhyme for the opening line "I am the Antichrist."

It's not all played for laughs, though.

When the film takes on such topics as the breakup of the band and tragic death of poor old Sid, the bassist on a crash course with disaster, "The Filth and the Fury" is poignant in ways that "Sid and Nancy" never even tried to be. It's oddly moving, after all these years, to see the bassist, interviewed a year before his overdose, reflecting on his life with an honesty that strips away the junkie icon, leaving just a troubled kid.

It's not a flawless film. Like Temple's last attempt, it's a little too arty, even for the Pistols. And the way he's filmed the interviews in silhouette just makes it hard to tell who's talking (except when it's Rotten, whose voice is truly a one-of-a-kind affliction).

But these are minor flaws. And unimportant ones at that.

The reason everyone who's ever had a passing interest in popular culture owes it to themselves to see this documentary is the music.

It leaps off the screen in a mix that's got the Pistols classics cranked so high, you won't believe your battered ears. The volume only makes the music that much more electrifying, as vital today as it was the day the Pistols fired that first shot heard 'round the world.

As Rotten says, "The Sex Pistols should have happened and did."

And "The Filth and the Fury" is here to remind the world exactly why that is.

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