With unnerving insight, Julian Temple recognised one young band's latent
power, and began documenting their brief, brilliant career at an early
stage. From over 20 hours of chaotic gig footage and interviews, he has
cobbled together an authentic, unsentimental testimony that makes for
John (Sid Vicious) Beverley's short life is a real tragedy. He was a
surprisingly quietly-spoken and articulate young man who succumbed to
heroin. At times Temple interviews him smacked out of his head where he
begins snoring mid-sentence. Jones and Cook seem never to have
outgrown the role of professional geezers, relishing tales of knocking
off David Bowie's concert gear.
Temple's affection for the complex and often fragile characters at the heart
the 70's youth movement drives this film. He is adamant that the players
are allowed to tell it as it was. All the obstacles placed in the
way of this band are revealed, from Carol-singing Welsh picketing concert
halls, to rednecks treating the band like circus freaks, to the record
company executives planning ways to exploit their fame.
But Temple places the embryonic Punk era in context. 1976 London is
foreboding, Dickensian; still riddled with WW2 bombsites. Protracted
council strikes have created rat-infested garbage mountains. The
neo-fascist National Front parade streets where Teddy Boys regard
themselves as the pinnacle of fashion. One wild-eyed NF supporter is
an appalling example of white working class hatred.
There is one superlative scene which seems to summarise the fact that if
Punk was anti-social rebellion, it was specifically anti-establishment
rebellion. On Christmas Day 1976 in Huddersfield, the tabloid pariahs
give a benefit party for the children of striking Firemen. The kids
proceed to launch custard pies at the Sex Pistols.
Punk's DIY spirit stands peculiarly frozen in history. Anyone under a
certain age must wonder what all the fuss was about. Today, swearing,
pierced, multi-tattooed bands are a staple diet of MTV; they might see
themselves as rebels but they are firstly superstars who fill stadiums
and pay for their producers' exotic holidays. Temple, along with a
whole generation of now middle-aged ex-Punks, realise that the Sex Pistols,
The Clash, The Ramones and their contemporaries, for a blink in time,
produced the most incendiary rock n' roll ever.
Copyright © 2001 Mark Fleming