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"the Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle"

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1992. Directed by Julián Temple. Starring Malcolm McLaren and The Sex Pistols. A WarnerReprise Video Release. " just hasn't seemed to be able to get the hang of failure. McLaren, a London Boutique designer of questlonable quality and taste, orlginally conceived of The Sex Pistols as an radical affront to the music industry. To thatend he rounded up four of the worst musicians he could flnd - Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Johnny Rotten, and Sid Vicious - and managed to make them even raunchier as a group, than the sum total of their individual raunchy parts. Instead of the affront he envlsioned, McLaren's creation of "punk music" has redefined rock and roll with a verve. And it came at a time when rock badly needed redefinition. The genre, in the 70s, could have slipped in the other.direction and we'd all be listening to Barry Manilow. More importan tly though, punk (through its step-children, grunge and slash) is still reverberating as a vital sound in our global village. Such is nihilism with a 44 beat. Likewise, McLaren's video documentary history of his band is meant to be an affront to the film industry. The narrative is virtually pure drivel. (On first exposure of McLaren, one learns that this sort of juvenility is to be expected.) The footage of their concert appearances has the fascinationofan impending car wreek. Butlots of people do stop to look over the damage - and whal else is rock and roll anyway? One thing McLaren wasn't able to destroy is the sheer charismatic presence of The Sex Pistols themselves. This led toThe London Daily Mirror cali the film "A masterpiece of tasteless tat. " The Sunday Times (of all places!) breathlessly proclaimed it "A freewheeling, foul-mouthed, spitballing, anarchie mess, foaming wfth manie energy." And Variety said it's The Citizen Kane of Rock and Roll Pictures." The "Citizen Kane" of Rock and Roll movies!?! Well, yes. "The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle" may just be the "Citizen Kane" of rock and roll movies. And whether or not one agrees with this assessment, one thing's for sure - It's easily the best rock and roll movie since the 1964 release of "A Hard Day's Night. ' Interspersed wlth concert footage are staged interludes of McLaren's descriptlons of hls exploits over record and entertainment corporatlons. Thls aspect of the documentary is most certalnly sophomoric, but maybe we've become so sufflclently jaded that McLaren's antlcs are slmply self-defeating. For whatever these Interludes are meant to convey, they certalnly don't shock wlth the urgency McLaren seemstodesperately want Moreover, they pale Insignlficantly In contrast to the fascina tlng gllmpses of the The Sex Plstols In actlon. The comparison wlth "A Hard Day's Nlght" can be made In the realm of the musical retrospectlve documentary. The comparison, however, doesn't go much further. Where Beatles manager Brian Epstein deliberately smoothed the edges off his wards (resultlng in the "mop top" image) , McLaren has sharpened the points of his fearsome foursome into uncompromising daggers. lts this stridency which overshadows all the silliness surrounding the documentary. The two bands are indeed the Apollinian and Dionysian antipodes of the history of rock and roll. In many respects they're the alpha and omega of modern popular music. Do yourself a favor and see both films as a double-blll. McLaren, once agaln, has snatched victory out of the intentional jaws of defeat. "The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle" is similar to The Sex Pistols themselves, In that the very fact that they were supposed to be so Inept may have spurred them on. Such logic as this makes about as much sense as anything else surrounding the band, its origins, and eventual demise. Whether belting out "God Save the Queen," "No Feelings," or "Belsen Was a Gas," this quartet somehow mysteriously was able to rivet their audience with an undeniable stage and sound presence. As a retrospective, "The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle" is a masterwork. Love 'em or hate 'em, it's useless to deny that The Sex Pistols were a great band - no matter the circumstance or their manager's intent. A1 PEO r


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