Considering how short-lived it really was, Punk music has left a deep impression on the modern world. It also gathered an astounding amount of mythology, even by musical standards. What punk was or wasn’t, who started it and whether the mohawk was ever a part of it all are topics that spark endless debates – though if they were conducted in true punk form, those debates were actually fist fights.
And no single band raises the ire of Punk polarity more than The Sex Pistols, which some hold as the height of the movement and others sneer as the movement’s sell-out. It’s hard to know what the truth really is, except that you sure as hell won’t find it in The Great Rock & Roll Swindle.
On the other hand, this may just be the most accurate portrait of Punk yet. I’m relying on the opinion of others – punk faded around the time I was born. But much like the band, this film polarises fans of Punk. Most of it is outright fiction: made by the Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren during their slow split, it’s a mockumentory about the band and how, despite having no talent, no ability and no actual performances, became a mega hit.
That’s not the truth – the Pistols did guide a bit of gigging and were competent musicians. Well, at least two members were. Still, this mythology works a lot better with the Sex Pistols persona. It’s an utterly cynical, chaotic and delusional film. It would have been a lot more depressing were the whole experience not straight out of a lunatic bin. This is one reason held up by its defenders: the soul of The Great Rock & Roll Swindle is that of the Pistols and may be of Punk itself.
I can’t vouch for the veracity of that statement, but this movie definitely is a mental bit of work that seems to reflects the ‘devil may care’ attitude of the band. Many performers have released movie companions to their brand, most notoriously perhaps Justin Bieber and The Jonas Brothers. Among the more inspired was The Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night, really just a series of dry-witted skits and impromptu musicals. Unless you are a purist, the ultimate film featuring a band was the mock doc This Is Spinal Tap, though Spinal Tap is a joke band to begin with.
Yet The Great Rock & Roll Swindle lives in a whole different place. Is it a documentary, as told from Malcolm McLaren’s highly dubious perspective? Was it a joke, cleverly crafted to reflect the Pistols? A shameless cash-in?
Who really knows? It certainly wasn’t very orchestrated, Made in the band’s twilight and after singer Johnny Rotten had left, the movie is cobbled from archive footage, animations and new scenes shot by the remaining band members, including a clearly drug-glazed Sid Vicious. It’s meant to follow a narrative, but this movie is really just a hot mess.
But so were The Sex Pistols, which is why this makes for the perfect band movie.[/column] [column size=one_half position=last ]
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Last Updated: May 11, 2015