The Filth And The Fury

The Filth And The Fury

Julien Temple's inspired and brilliantly executed documentary on The Sex Pistols, The Filth And The Fury, gets its title from a tabloid headline printed the day after the band's profanity-laden debut on British television. But there's no better shorthand to describe the group itself, which literally rose from the stinking grime of a mid-'70s London garbage strike to slash and burn through the cultural landscape. Temple documented the Pistols post-breakup in 1980's The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, but the story was told from erstwhile manager Malcolm McLaren's egocentric perspective and never earned singer John Lydon's approval. The ostensible purpose of The Filth And The Fury is to set the record straight, but Temple and Lydon—in perhaps the most fruitful collaboration of its kind since D.A. Pennebaker and Bob Dylan made Don't Look Back—do more than simply retell the band's history. Through a rousing, free-associative collage of archival footage, the film situates their anarchic punk in a larger context, as both the product of working-class frustration and a genuine catalyst for social change. (As Lydon puts it, "The Sex Pistols should have happened and did.") Temple stays sharply focused on the 26 months the band existed, even going so far as to put the new interviews with band members in silhouette. As a result, the now-familiar account of the Pistols' spectacular ascent and implosion is told as if it were actually happening, like something found in a vault buried 25 years ago. It's pieced together like a punk film, too, raucous and often funny: When Lydon refers to Emerson, Lake & Palmer as an old dinosaur, Temple cuts to a brontosaurus from a cheesy '50s sci-fi movie; when he says he'd never get caught singing Bay City Rollers' "Shang-A-Lang," Temple synchs the track to 8mm Lydon performance footage. The Filth And The Fury seems especially vital now, when even the most provocative acts (Marilyn Manson, Rage Against The Machine, et al) are corporate tools, selling the concept of rebellion for a profit. The subject of this film, here and gone in a brilliant flash, was the real deal.

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