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‘The Filth And The Fury’: A Sex Pistols Film

The Filth and the Fury, poster 2000 © Sex Pistols Residuals / Paul BurgessFeature length 2000 Sex Pistols documentary containing new interviews with the band, previously unseen footage and archive material.

Review by Scott M, July 2002
(taken from Pistols at The Palace gig programme)

If you still haven’t saw the Sex Pistols film/documentary ‘The Filth and the Fury’ you really NEED to. We’ve had Malcolm McLaren’s fictionalised satire of the Sex Pistols story ‘The Great Rock n Roll Swindle’, now it’s time for the truth. More than seven years in the making, ‘The Filth and the Fury’ is a collaboration between the surviving Sex Pistols and director Julien Temple. Who also directed ‘The Swindle’. Here, Julien, along with the band, finally gets to put the story straight…

The thing to remember is that the film is more than just another straight rock n roll ‘rockumentary’. The Sex Pistols are far from a straight rock n roll band, they deserve a film that reflects that. As well as Sex Pistols footage the film marries together archive film and TV footage from the seventies. Not everybody watching will be old enough to remember the 1970s, and people from outside of Britain will know nothing of the grey dirge that was the UK back then. The additional footage helps set atmosphere. People need to see just how dull and boring things were, socially and musically…

Another thing that separates TF&TF from a normal rock documentary is that the new interviews with the original four Pistols have been filmed in silhouette, ‘criminal’ style. There’s no footage of forty year old’s to spoil people’s perceptions. Like the Pistols, the film is unique and highly original.

Part of this film’s appeal is that it’s not necessarily aimed at just the existing fans. That would only be preaching to the converted, what’s the point of that? This is far more clever, they’re trying to subvert the uninitiated. The additional footage really breaks up the film. The TV footage is hilariously bad! There’s also archive news footage of the social climate in London at the time; bin strikes, run down council estates, football violence, racists, riots. Rule Britannia…

When you see the kind of bands that were doing the rounds on ‘Top Of The Pops’ at the time, it really puts the Pistols into perspective. They really were like something from another planet. And as Julien Temple pointed out himself, the weird thing is 25 years later the Sex Pistols still look contemporary, it’s everybody else in the film that look like freaks.

There’s so much rare and unseen Pistols footage that it would be impossible to list it all. No matter how much footage you think you’ve saw, there’s going to be stuff here you never even knew existed. I suppose the frustrating thing is that it’s only brief clips. But there was no other way of squeezing it all in. We were never going to get a complete chronological document of the band. And anyway, I don’t care how big a fan you think you are: it would just be boring like that. Realistically it would never have got made. If it did it, it would probably have ended up some horrible TV documentary, or some trashy video… I think the recent Clash documentary was well put together, but at the end of the day, it’s not in the same league as this film (just like the band). Having had the benefit of seeing the Pistols film first, The Clash came across as just another conformist rock n roll band, with a documentary to match. People who see TF&TF will realise that there is no other band like the Sex Pistols, and there never will be…

I think the idea of filming the new interviews in silhouette is a master stroke. I suppose it evens adds a bit of mystery. All four band members were interviewed separately, none of them knew what the others had said about each other. As you’d expect John has the most screen time, he basically narrates the story. Which makes perfect sense. He is the face and the voice of the Sex Pistols. Without doubt he’s the most articulate of them all, and he’s also very funny. Steve Jones is hilarious too. Some of his one-liners are absolutely superb, and the best thing is, he’s not even trying to be funny, he’s just being himself…

The interview with Sid Vicious in Hyde Park is great. Far better than I would have expected. When Julien interviewed him back in 1978 he must have ran through the whole Pistols story. It’s almost as if he was still alive. Virtually every stage of their career is covered. Sid is far more articulate than you’d have expected, he’s also very humorous. It’s a side you very rarely see.

It’s hard to pick out favourite parts as there are so many. The footage from the kids party at Ivanhoes on Xmas Day 1977 is superb, the way ‘Bodies’ has been edited has to come in for special mention. As does the Bill Grundy interview. Even the footage you have saw before takes on a new meaning when you see it on film. I’ve saw ‘The Swindle’ countless times, but it wasn’t until I saw the Winterland footage on a big screen that I fully understood just how fucked John was. When he says, “Bollocks, why should I even carry on”, you know he means it. It’s the little things like that, along with the new footage that really make the film. I have to admit, as much as I enjoyed watching the film the first time, it improved with additional viewing’s. There is just so much to take in, there is no way you could catch it all first time…

The TF&TF really shows the Sex Pistols as human beings not rock stars. What they went through in such a short space of time would have crippled most other bands. If you didn’t know better you’d think the story was made up. The music business might look glamorous to some people, but as the film proves there is a whole other side to it. That said, despite the huge obstacles the band encountered they still managed more than a few victories. Proving even the most unlikely people can overcome anything society throws at them, and come back for more. Things after the Sex Pistols would never be the same…

“only the fakes survive…” – John Lydon

 

The Filth and the Fury is available on DVD