The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years

1988, Movie, R, 93 mins


Director Penelope Spheeris returns to her musical-documentary roots with another fluidly-structured of the fringes of youth culture. The first DECLINE covered the punk scene; this time around, she investigates the world of heavy metal music. Filmed between August 1987 and February 1988, it mixes concert footage and surprisingly open interviews with struggling musicians, their fans, and many of the genre's successes. As they discuss fame, sex, and money, Spheeris gives a cynically humorous spin to their heavily-permed dreams of imminent stardom.

The definition of heavy is given by fans and musicians, while additional commentary comes from more recognizable names, including Alice Cooper, Poison, Gene Simmons, and Paul Stanley (who's interviewed in bed, accompanied by a trio of scantily-clad young ladies). Self-proclaimed "toxic twins" Steve Tyler and Joe Perry from Aerosmith seem comparatively sedate, as they discuss heavy metal's R&B roots and their past drug use. Ozzy Osbourne is filmed in his kitchen, attempting to make breakfast, as he recalls his days with Black Sabbath.

Six heavy metal newcomers are lensed in concert, and evenly sprinkled throughout the interviews, beginning with Lizzy Borden's metal-ized "Born to Be Wild." Then it's a visit to a raucous, sexually-charged nightclub called The Cathouse, where Faster Pussycat performs "Cathouse" and "Bathroom Wall." After the band Seduce sings "Colleen" and "Crash Landing," much of the emphasis focuses on the female fans, with band members bragging about groupies who jump into bed with them and even buy them groceries. As a counterpoint, a female probation officer interjects some negative comments about heavy metal's Satanism and their degradation of women.

After performing "Russian Winter", the band London call themselves a "cheap hooker," since they've been around for so many years, with ex-members going onto more lucrative gigs. The viewer then meets club owner Bill Gazzarri, who holds a contest for the scantily-dressed Gazzarri Dancer of the Year. When the band Odin is announced, they barely get a reaction from the audience as they perform "Little Gypsy." Nevertheless, afterward they promise they'll soon be "immortal superstars."

The next segment is a visit with WASP's Chris Holmes, who floats in his pool, in a state beyond simple inebriation--he pours a bottle of vodka over his face, as his mother watches from poolside. Afterward, Cooper, Lemmy, and Osbourne all comment about their own past alcoholism. At the end, the musicians, both young and old, admit that the surge of entertaining an audience excites them more than anything else. Megadeth then caps off the film with "In My Darkest Hour."

Unlike the first DECLINE, which charted the early '80s punk scene with a crude but clean eye, this is a very different undertaking. Briskly edited and with a raucous sense of humor (mostly at the expense of its subjects), this offers up an entertaining, very accessible overview of the heavy metal lifestyle and the musicians' over-inflated egos. Wisely, Spheeris downplays their actual music and instead focuses on their personalities and obviously unrealistic dreams of fame.

The long-term survivors seem like the most sensible of the lot, but that's only because they've already survived years of excess in one piece. And even if Ozzy Osbourne is unable to pour a simple glass of orange juice for himself, he seems lovably lost rather than aggressively ignorant (like the gleefully self-destructive Holmes). The interchangeable, flash-in-the-pan bands are the easiest targets, since they seem oblivious to how pompous they sound. The men often wear more make-up than the women, and brag about their extravagant costumes and off-stage sexcapades. Most important, Spheeris isn't afraid of showing them at their most vapid and irresponsible.

This is a well-made, observant documentary, with attitude to spare and plenty of justifiable laughs at the expense of its subjects. Focusing in on every aspect of this subculture--from the fascinating, to the absurd, to the downright depressing--this would make the perfect double bill with THIS IS SPINAL TAP. The scary thing is, all of DECLINE's idiocy is real. (Sexual situations, substance abuse, extreme profanity.) leave a comment

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The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years
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