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The Filth And The Fury

director: Julien Temple

103 mins (15) widescreen 16:9
FilmFour VCI DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Michael Brooke
It's ironic that I should be reviewing this at the same time as Donald Cammell's Wild Side, since this is another film that consists of drastically re-edited material, though with the difference that while much of it will be extremely familiar to old Sex Pistols hands - I'd guess that, at a very conservative estimate, at least 80 percent of the footage will be instantly recognisable to anyone who's seen Julien Temple's earlier The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, Lech Kowalski's D.O.A, Don Letts' The Punk Rock Movie, Olivier's Richard III and just about any halfway decent documentary on the punk movement - the crucial difference is with the point of view: while Malcolm McLaren has thus far dominated discussion of both the band and the era, in The Filth And The Fury he takes a back seat, with the band themselves telling their own story very much from their own point of view, and gleefully trashing McLaren's carefully self-constructed legend in the process!
   And that's the great strength of at least the first half - familiar footage is given an unfamiliar spin, assumptions that we've held for years and indeed decades are undermined and turned on their head: this is particularly true of the first half-hour, an exhilarating rapid-fire montage of the late 1970s that explains better than anything else I've come across just why punk pretty much had to happen (the film is much more coherently contextualised from a political and historical standpoint than its predecessors). All four surviving Pistols are interviewed individually, backlit in silhouette, though presumably not out of modesty so much as the desire not to break the spell: punk was a youth revolution, and seeing its avatars as wrinkly fortysomethings would probably have broken the spell built up by the fuzzy, grainy footage that makes up much of the running time.
   Sadly, once the Pistols saga proper commences (it's a surprisingly long time before we hear any of their songs!), the film gets stuck in something of a rut, as Temple ploughs a rather too well-known furrow that's only occasionally interspersed with genuine rarities such as a surprisingly lucid interview with Sid Vicious. The film also suffers from diminishing returns because of the way good ideas are needlessly bludgeoned into the ground (the endless clips from Olivier's Richard III being particularly annoying) and by the rather downbeat conclusion; it's hard to avoid the impression of déjà vu. But it's still well worth seeing; especially if you haven't seen any of the other punk documentaries cited above or are too young to remember one of the few cultural movements in recent years that could genuinely be called revolutionary.
   DVD extras: include a commentary by director Temple that is surprisingly uninformative given his self-evident knowledge of both the subject and the prime movers.

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