Home Entertainment Cinophile: THE GREAT ROCK & ROLL SWINDLE


4 min read
[column size=one_half position=first ]

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 ]
Though positioned as a documentary, this film is really more of a fantastical farce with elements of the truth sown among a lot of mythology. It was made during the period of the Sex Pistols’ breakup and lead singer Johnny Rotten, who had just left the band, had nothing to do with it. His appearances are all in archive footage. Instead the Rock ‘n Roll Swindle was created by the manager, Malcolm McLaren. In 2000 the surviving members of the band made The Filth and The Fury in response.


Not surprisingly the movie stirred controversy, but it wasn’t an innocent part. British authorities wanted to rate the movie as X – numerous scenes of nudity and sexuality had to be cut or covered up. The movie also had to add the news of Sex Pistols bassist’s Sid Vicious’ alleged murder of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, and subsequent overdose.


The movie was announced while the Pistols were still together and was to be named Anarchy in the UK. Renowned sexploitaition director Russ Meyer was brought onboard with a script written by Roger Ebert. But due to communication breakdowns with him, Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten, Meyer was replaced by the inexperienced. Julien Temple. It would catapult his career, particularly in music videos. He later also directed the band’s rebuttal to Swindle, The Filth and The Fury.

Cinophile is a weekly feature showcasing films that are strange, brilliant, bizarre and explains why we love the movies.

Last Updated: May 11, 2015

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check Also

Daft Punk calls it a day, officially splits up

Daft Punk,the finest export from Paris since a guidebook on how to pronounce “croissant” w…