The film sets the scene of lower-class life in the UK in the 70s, showing a grim world of repression, boredom and grime, then charts The Sex Pistols’ rise to infamy, feuds and eventual break-up, interspersing interviews and live clips (though I’m thinking not live sound recordings, most of the time) with clips of Richard III (to whom Lydon compared himself) as played by Olivier, animation of the band, archive footage and various British comics playing the clown. It gives the film an interesting disjointed and unpredictable feel, and with the band members all interviewed in silhouette, there’s a sense of strangeness, of individuality, as though the Pistols were part of a world no-one else can ever really know, but they lived it utterly and completely. Which is very true.
I really admire Johnny Rotten. I find it hard to see why people would idolise Sid Vicious. Why girls want to have sex with him – that I can see, but to idolise him? Strange. But to see Rotten perform, even in old clips, is something special. The intensity he has, the way he can just freeze, staring with this look of accusation and dominance in his eyes. His sneering, powerful and instantly recognisable voice. His intelligence. The fact that he is a person like anyone else, with real emotions and real regrets. The way he knows that punk was about non-conformity and that the development of a look, a uniform, a pigeon-hole, ruined the whole thing. I don’t quite understand why he wanted to reform the band for a nice big commercial tour, but hey – he wanted to. And doing what you will, as for Crowley, as for the Romantics, as for the Epicureans, was part of the essence of punk. What more do you need?
I’m not saying I understand him. I’m not saying I understand punk, especially not the Pistols’ punk. But I enjoy it. And I do what I want, and if I don’t look like the rest of the punks, that’s fine by me. I’m happy being middle-classed, affluent, articulate, liberal in a mild, ineffective way and many other things that I’m sure are the antithesis of the punk movement. But until I start pretending to be something I’m not, I don’t think I’ll earn the scorn of Mr Lydon. And it’s not like that’s a guideline for life, anyway.
The film was compelling viewing and a must for any fan. Even non-fans would likely enjoy the classic rock and roll story told here, though probably less than the absorbing Sid and Nancy, simply because of the nature of the respective media.
I have to say, though, even though I like Roger Ebert’s film reviews very much, he wrote one of the worst ones I’ve ever seen by ANYONE for this film. He’s MET these people in person. He was going to write a film for them. And he thinks Sid Vicious was the frontman, gets song titles wrong, thinks a contemporary London councillor would use the word ‘guys’ and misunderstands entirely the relationship between this band and their fans? Tsk.