Saturday, September 29, 2012

Shooting Blanks: "The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle" (1981)

Having never been a fan of punk rock, I figured this would be a good companion to both "Sid & Nancy," and the basic facts I knew about the Sex Pistols.

The plot is there is no plot. Sure, we have the Sex Pistols' old manager telling everyone how the entire punk rock scene was just a swindle to make money, and we have one cooperating band member trying to find the manager, but the film is punctuated with music video and concert footage that predates the now lame MTV by a few years.

Most of the British accents here are completely unintelligible, and that might be a problem if this so called documentary had any sort of forward thrust. Instead, this seems like a concoction of file footage, long forgotten film ideas, and real life. By today's standards, when one considers gangsta rap, grunge, and even Madonna, most of the Sex Pistols' antics seem tame (except for the murder and heroin overdose). Eventually, other musical acts came along that were more shocking (Ozzy Osbourne and Marilyn Manson), and in a few years, even more shocking acts will appear.

This film just proves, or jokes, that even the anarchy was a product of a marketing team somewhere, and not the product of musicians trying to do something with their music (whether it be to entertain or make a statement). I always found Johnny Rotten to be a jerk, and wondered why so many reporters would talk to him. Now, I realize it was to egg him on, and get the ratings, not to find out what happened to this guy to make him such a dolt. When you look at this bizarre film in this perspective, you will feel enlightened.

I am recommending this, and here is why: as a concert film or documentary, it sucks. As an early piece of music video, and a piece of surrealism, it succeeds. This could stand up to many art films, and surpasses many in budget and audacity alone. There are lame stories, weird animation (never will you see so much cartoon vomit again), constant nudity and cursing, and yet it is a little endearing to punk rock fans and weird film fans.

Unsettling scenes include Sid Vicious pulling a switchblade on an old man, and a couple of scenes showing newspaper headlines after his girlfriend's stabbing and his overdose, but it adds to the complete and utter weirdness of it all.

Temple also directed a recent documentary on the Sex Pistols, and maybe I should take that out too. In the meantime, I, and you, will not soon forget this brazen exercise in cinematic excess and I slightly recommend it. (* * * *) out of five stars.