Published Apr 01, 2000The Filth and the Fury is yet another handful of mud flung from the Sex Pistols camp against the big white wall of Malcolm McLaren's myth-making, and the legacy of the band as a whole. While it claims to "set the record straight," the film is predictably selective about its subject matter, but as an entertaining polemic from a bunch of drunken yobs with spotty memories of what it was like to be there, The Filth and the Fury is an entertaining diversion.
Clearly, one of the motives behind this documentary is to provide what band members claim is the other side of the story from a first film effort, 1980's The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle, which Julien Temple (Absolute Beginners, Earth Girls Are Easy) also directed that is, to remove svengali Malcolm McLaren almost completely from the band's history.
What the film does particularly well is chronicle through the band's own words the early days and months of their inception, their working class backgrounds and the goals and expectations of each member, and their reactions to the earliest moments of the Pistols. The snotty punk fuck you of their first live shows is captured beautifully here with amateur live footage shot by Temple himself, as well as by interviews and archival footage. These earliest moments, along with quite a lot of footage of bassist and original fan Sid Vicious, are the real meat of The Filth and the Fury, and well worth seeing for any punk rock fan.
Where the documentary comes apart at the seams, however, is in the selectivity of its coverage, and some of its outlandish claims about the Pistols' importance. It gleefully glosses over Malcolm McLaren's involvement, leaving the impression that he was not only unimportant, but was nothing but a hanger-on who had almost no influence (other than negative) on the band's success or fame. It fails to mention in any detail the recording of Never Mind the Bollocks, the band's only album, and the fact that they didn't actually play most of the instruments on it. And it conveniently stops with the end of the original Pistols chronicling none of the band's later activities, singer John Lydon's legal fight with McLaren in the late 80s, or the band's Gaultier-clad, money-grubbing 90s Filthy Lucre album and tour.
The band's legacy as well, is fairly selectively handled. While it correctly identifies the band's working class roots, the doc's passing claim to any support of the feminist movement is patently absurd, and its progressive claims are effectively refuted by the almost omnipresent swastika T-shirt worn by Sid Vicious.
The film's dominant imagery is of these angry young punters, eager to kick the mainstream in the teeth. But what it denies is what the band has become when the Pistols legacy can be heard in innocuous toothpaste commercials and on nostalgically packaged "history of punk" K-Tel albums. All current interview footage with the band is shot in silhouette, so that we can't see that the heroes got old, that they're living a life far away from their punk rock roots, that Johnny Rotten so named because of the awful state of his teeth has been to the dentist. If they can ignore it, we can too, and indulge in a little rose-coloured nostalgia for a time whose truth doesn't really live up to its image.