1981, Movie, 90 mins


When the Sex Pistols blew through America in 1978, director Lech Kowalski followed them with handheld cameras through the clubs and bars of their seven-city Southern tour. Mixing this with footage of other contemporary bands, trends in the fashion capitals, and punks of all shapes and colors, he created a grainy, stained snapshot of a movement at its peak.

Fans are seen enthusing about the music; foes are seen condemning it. Belligerent punks spit and snarl; British upper-class members lament their lack of imagination and articulation. Bands X-Ray-Spex and Generation X play in their rehearsal spaces, and local nobodies Terry and the Idiots in a pub to indifferent response. Through it all, the Sex Pistols slog through the States, generating raving acolytes and rabid hatred.

Surprisingly well-assembled for a low-budget project with essentially bootleg, non-synch sound performances, the film has several linchpins, the first of course being the Pistols themselves. Their tour gets nastier and more violent as it goes along, building to the San Antonio show where Sid Vicious takes a swing at redneck audience members with his bass, and culminating in the mass bad-vibe at San Francisco's Winterland, final stop of the tour. Second would be the co-opting of punk, as the fashion spreads and the bands glimpsed get progressively more professional and/or imitative, their stages larger, until Sham 69 are seen in a concert hall with bouncers gently ushering offstage a starstruck girl who wanders up next to singer Jimmy Pursey.

Counterpoint to this would be linchpin #3, Terry and the Idiots, probably one of the most inept bands ever to blight the planet. Profiled extensively throughout, Terry Sylvester is a sad, pathetic loser who embraces punk for all the obvious (and wrong) reasons; when his band is shunned at the pub, he morosely decides to head for the disco instead and to try to shag a bird. The last linchpin is Sid and Nancy. In what has to be the most unique interview technique ever, Kowalski deletes all the questions and answers, leaving only the pauses between, and indeed they are telling. Sid dozing off mid-sentence. Nancy barking orders at him. Sid offering to make a porno film. Nancy peeling off her sweaty rubber shirt. Knowing they'd both be dead in a matter of months might add resonance, but frankly, the sequence would be riveting anyway, as an example of two people who took all the hype seriously, letting it define their lives and their relationship. (Violence, nudity, adult situations, substance abuse, extreme profanity.) leave a comment

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