The Decline of Western Civilization Series DVD

Swimming pool hi jinx

This is the 3 part documentary charting the rise of punk in the early 1980s. The new movement had a dynamic thunder and passion, which was spent very quickly. It had bands and people so self destructive as to be on a direct path to death. Then the sequel moves to the pinnacle of ‘Hair metal’ and the heavy metal of the mid-1980s. We meet that faces and bands that defined the excess of the time. Drink, drugs, sex and Rock and Roll mix with misogyny and self destruction. Finally the third film deals with the gutter punk movement of the 1990s. These are the homeless kids that have lost almost everything but still are moving on. From home to home and squat to squat, drink to drink and life to death. We meet bands along the way that are as diverse as W.A.S.P, Odin, X, Germs, Circle Jerks and Final Conflict. This is the major work of a film pioneer and documentary historian like no other.

To explore this series of films respectfully it is only fair to split them up into the three separate films and then discuss the discs contents for each. This allows the films to be critically observed and also allow you to have a choice of film to focus on. This I hope will allow you the reader to understand my intention and my opinion about the films.

Scream and shout...let it out...

The Decline of Western Civilization part 1 is an astounding work that exposes the intelligence of people, who are dually destructive and creative. It takes the rapidly expanding and contracting movement of punk in LA and moves it past idealism and ideology. It does this by doing what great documentary films do, it simply documents. The essential grotty elements of the movement are over stepped and the time and space scape is merged with sound and visual. Interviews are used to examine the bands ideals, as well as live performance to underline their vigour. Band personality and performance has refuge here. They bond with screen image leaving the audience participating. You are left shaken, bruised and battered but in the end better. For me, Subcultures are like the birthplace of gods. They drive creativity as we see here, with a concentrated focus and a flame passion. This film captures this and is a testament to the form and the cinema itself.

New 2K scan of each film supervised by director Penelope Spheeris looks great and the commentary is involved and informed. Never-before-seen footage, interviews and performances gives a glimpse of some more performances and reveals a tortured soul.

Ozzy cooks....did less well with the viewers than expected...

The Decline of Western Civilization part 2 in contrast feels like a mockumentary and I feel that Spheeris had this as the intention. It could be summed up as a straight version of ‘Spinal Tap’. Hair Metal was overtly sexist, materialistic and driven by idiotic egotism shine like the dull hair spray. It is in total opposite to the other films participants. Though occasionally enlightening it is a direct attack on the dire state of play at the time. Idealism and ideology has mutated into a Reagan era craving for fame and money. The great thing is that it is being delivered as a joke. It is a satire of the people, bands and personalities. Though occasionally vindictive in its punch lines and a little callous it is superb. This callousness is directed at the horror show and should be remembered by the viewer. It is actually more interesting due to this…  I could continue with this. I love this film. I love that it is so well crafted as to be taking the topic head on and making those who do not see their vapidness, see it. This film apparently saw the decline and end of the ‘hair metal’ movement and you can see directly how this had that effect. It also accents the loneliness of an individual. Christopher John Holmes is depicted as intoxicated. He then opens up about his place and its very lonely state.

New 2K scan of each film supervised by director Penelope Spheeris is excellent and cleans up the dirt on the previous prints. Never-before-seen footage, interviews and performances is superb and check out the extension of the Christopher John Holme interview mentioned above. Vintage interviews with director Penelope Spheeris are great. Audio Commentary with Penelope Spheeris is as illuminating as the previous but with the added information about intentions.

Walking tall...feeling small

The final instalment The Decline of Western Civilization III has far different ambitions. Moving into the 90s it seeks to locate those failed by punks dream. Isolation, ruination and obliteration have decayed the hopes of youth. Self and society are redundant and now this leaves many good people (often from horrid homes) left to fend for themselves. The journey goes one way and you see the tight community members walking directly toward this. Spheeris deals frankly and with deep respect for her participants. Again she humanises a group that are often seen as animal. Lost souls and lost lives now recorded expressing pain through punk. In a perverse way it is the destroyer of dreams and the music moves from movement to hymns to failed promises

Audio Commentary with Dave Grohl has great layers and the moment he sees Flea (Red Hot Chillis) is outstanding.

Light bulb moment

It is very hard to sum up in a few words my reaction to this work. At once it is a masterwork of youth and power. It captures events that sparked from a moment of musical madness. It does this for three different moments and the force of which it does is amazing. That was all made from fires that burned after the loss from the embers of the past. I was lucky to be growing up when Rave music and dance music became king. Much like the punk explosion, it burst from a series of smaller potent forces from the past. Visualised  magnificently by Spheeris. Symbolism is used to reflect desire and vacancy in all three. Raw, splendid passions are captured with an eye of a poet. Volatile celebrity dreams and empty headed nihilism crash into performance and message. A comment of people who have nothing and either want to be adored and idolised or left alone. A masterpiece….


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