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What's the story?
Twenty years ago, director Julien Temple made The Great Rock and Roll Swindle, a documentary about British punk band the Sex Pistols from the point of view of their manager, Malcolm McLaren, who was presented as a Svengali who conceived and marketed the group. Now, Temple returns with another take on the same story, as the surviving Sex Pistols tell their side. According to the band members, McLaren was incompetent and corrupt. He played no part in creating the band; all he did was market them badly and take all their money. Johnny Rotten (John Lydon) talks about their origins as furious and iconoclastic working-class boys who wanted to make people think about what was going on all around them – and about what was not going on. When the Sex Pistols formed, thousands were on welfare, and cuts in services left people feeling helpless. The Sex Pistols wanted the working class to question the system, and to fight back. They did everything they could to offend and enjoyed the horrified reactions. But there were a few things that they were not at all prepared to deal with, namely McLaren and band mate Sid Vicious' eventual heroin addiction. Speaking in shadows, Lydon breaks down in tears when he talks about how he could not save his friend.
Is it any good?
The movie reveals some fascinating details about the Sex Pistols band members. Temple, who was around when the band was together, clearly has the trust of the surviving members; he shoots them in shadows, so our visual image of them is not diluted by signs of aging. We see their present-day recollections over footage of themselves more than two decades ago. Temple skillfully intercuts scenes from music hall performers, Laurence Olivier's Richard III and Hamlet, contemporary commentators, and The Great Rock and Roll Swindle to provide a sense of context and contrast.
The Sex Pistols were enormously influential, and many rock bands found some inspiration in their willingness to take on any authority. For a brief time, they played the role of the child who tells the emperor he has no clothes. As one band member says, "I question everything. I always have done." Not a bad slogan for rock and roll, for adolescence, or even for everyone.