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Sex Pistols - The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle Print E-mail
Tuesday, 17 May 2005

The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle

Shout! Factory
MPAA rating: NR
starring: Malcom McLaren, Steve Jones, Sid Vicious, Paul Cook, Johnny Rotten
film release year: 1980
DVD release year: 2005
film rating: Two and a Half Stars
sound/picture: One and a Half Stars
reviewed by: Paul Lingas

This classic and very true “rockumentary” features the Sex Pistols, is about the Sex Pistols, and is, for the most part, by the Sex Pistols. Director Julien Temple combines television and film concert footage with a series of set-ups and pseudo-interviews to tell the fictionalized story of the rise and fall of the Sex Pistols. The band members all have their own roles as they perpetrate the Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle. Malcolm McLaren serves as the main “narrator,” if you will, as he tells his short muse some of the things that made the Sex Pistols who they were. For instance, you want at least one member of the band who doesn’t add anything musically but who is very interested in making lots of money. Another key is to get fans who don’t necessarily like your music but who like to go out and dress up. Steve Jones serves as a sort of detective figure who looks for clues around London, giving his own insight into just who he and the others are. Together, they explain the ten commandments of rock ’n’ roll success, excess and digress.
The film is clearly made in the older vein of rockumentary, where the band actually acts in a loose way while talking up their own genesis and impact through a manufactured story and not through any interviews. There are also musical numbers related to their famous work and animated sequences that relate various stories. Director Julien Temple fashions what is essentially a fictional documentary that is really a must-have for anyone who likes the Sex Pistols and anyone else who knows of them but has never really been exposed to them. The film, because the band members had so much input and are featured in a playful way so heavily, really captures the spirit not only of the band members, but of their music and the impact they had on the world around them. Much of what is shown easily captures the sheer irreverence and audacity of the Sex Pistols, as well as the uproar they caused in their day.

Even the film itself devolves into, as Temple suggests, a sort of “Marquis de Sade play,” where the music is going on and the band members are carrying on with naked women and getting sliced up with various razors and such. This essentially describes the final 40 minutes of the 100-minute film. The clichés of rock ’n’ roll, Sid Vicious’ addiction to heroin and other bits of craziness are reflected in the way the film’s denouement comes about. Much of this is reflected in both the audio commentary, as well as the recent interview by and with Temple. His reflections are both interesting and informative. He speaks very intelligently about the Sex Pistols and what it was that the film reflects, augments and makes up. This commentary makes up for the lack of any other special features, though it is difficult to know what else could be included.

The transfer is decent for the film stock that was used over 25 years ago. The most informative thing to say is that it looks like it was filmed in the late 1970s, at least the main bits of the film. There are also areas of scratchier, grainier film from various concerts and, of course, the animation. The new 5.1 mix does little to improve the clarity of certain chunks of dialogue, though it does immerse the viewer in the sounds of the Sex Pistols to a degree that stereo just can’t do. Obviously this isn’t a DVD that is concerned with looking or sounding great, and it doesn’t. However, the Sex Pistols would like that, since it serves the purpose of showing decadence and travesty in as raw a way as possible.

“The Great Rock ’N ‘ Roll Swindle” is really one of the greatest movies about music ever, right up there with “Sergeant Pepper’s” and “Spinal Tap.” What makes this one so good is that it so effectively captures the heart and soul of the Sex Pistols and provides the viewer with some of their best music. If you like music at all, you should pick this one up.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround; English 2.0 Stereo
aspect ratio(s): 4:3 (full-screen)
special features: Interview and Commentary with Director Julien Temple
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Panasonic DVD-XP50
receiver: Denon AVR-3802
main speakers: Venturi V820
center speaker: Polk CS 400i
rear speakers: Tannoy PBM 6.5
monitor: 43” Sony KP-43HT20

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