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Shout Factory presents
"There was an incredible danger to them as a group of characters."
DVD ReviewThe Sex Pistols—John Lydon, Sid Vicious, Steve Jones, Paul Cook—were one of the undisputed lynch pins in the late 1970s punk movement, a larger than life entity that shook up England and eventually the rest of the world in a meteoric rise and fall that still reverberates today. Sex shop owner/producer/bon vivant Malcom McLaren has been credited as forming the band allegedly as a pre-fab outfit, and with The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle the message is blurred and cobbled together so that McLaren is presented as the leather-mask-wearing Svengali building a band to literally swindle the masses.
The fuzzy line between truth and fiction exists in spades in The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle from director Julien Temple, a legendary bit of filmmaking that earns its importance as one of the few remaining video documents of the well-crafted fury that was The Sex Pistols during their short, manic life. By the time this film was eventually finished in 1980, the group had long since disbanded, Sid Vicious was dead and the myth had begun to eclipse the reality. That's where Temple's disjointed punk history lesson is so essential, because it is in between the bizarre, surreal connecting points that the power of the music rises above the in-jokes and silly ramblings.
It is those odd in-between moments that Temple collects with the proper punk aesthetic— all mean, subversive and anti-social— but what makes this anything but a swindle are the live clips and pre-MTV music videos that are stunning in their raw power. Watching the band rip through No Feelings live in the studio proves the band was no joke, and the lip-synching during Pretty Vacant has Lydon showing why he was (and still in, in my opinion) one of rock's finest frontmen while the leather-jacket-clad Vicious exists as punk's eventual charismatic martyr icon, a drug-addled thug with questionable bass skills and a violent streak a mile wide.
One of the signature sequences, aside from all the great Never Mind the Bollocks music, is the Sid Vicious rendition of My Way that should cement his stature as the living definition of punk for those youngsters who think Green Day invented three-chord swagger. Sauntering down that huge light-up staircase, appearing alone onstage, Vicious delivers a remarkable take on the Ol' Blue Eyes standard, and it wouldn't be "punk" if it didn't end with him shooting the audience before flipping them over as he staggers offstage.
In fact, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (and I'll add The Ramones End of the Century to that list, too) should be required viewing for every "alternative" music fan under the age of 16, because this isn't just poser posturing.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Temple's film was low budget then, and there doesn't appear to have been any major restoration done this release from Shout. Colors are very faded, lighting is questionable in sequences, and blocky grain is a near constant, but the look fits the punk history lesson that is The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle perfectly.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is available in either 2.0 stereo or 5.1 Dolby Digital surround, yet there is very little difference between the two. Fidelity is a bit harsh on both, bordering on the tinny, with no real bottom end to speak of. As with the video, this is meant to be a little rough around the edges, and I suspect a more polished audio transfer would only confuse the message.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Fearless Freaks, X: Live In Los Angeles
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Julien Temple, Chris Salewicz
Extras Review: As a time capsule, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle is essential viewing, but what makes this release from Shout Factory even more essential (if that's possible) is the inclusion of a commentary from director Julien Temple and writer Chris Salewicz.
Temple fills in a lot of cracks of what went on during production, explaining small details that may be otherwise not so clear to the average viewer, and also manages to give a concise explanation of what was going on socially in England at the time that helped fuel the rise of The Sex Pistols, and a few personal revelations that seem to put more importance of the impact of the film on the band's short career.
There is also an Interview with Julien Temple (18m:59s), which is basically the short version of what he discusses on the commentary. It is just as interesting, though based on the commentary it certainly seems that Temple's recollections could have been three times as long.
The disc is cut into 18 chapters.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsThis is like the Rosetta Stone of punk history, a swirling mass of different sounds and voices in one film that all exist under the mythical banner of The Sex Pistols. There's a musical history lesson to be had here, a rare piece of filmmaking that captured an explosive period in rock and roll.
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