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  Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, The Ever Get The Feeling You've Been Cheated?Buy this film here.
Year: 1980
Director: Julien Temple
Stars: Malcolm McLaren, Steve Jones, Paul Cook, Sid Vicious, John Lydon, Ronnie Biggs, Liz Fraser, Jess Conrad, Mary Millington, James Aubrey, Julian Holloway, John Shannon, Helen Wellington-Lloyd, Tenpole Tudor, Faye Hart, Alan Jones, Irene Handl, Peter Dean
Genre: Comedy, Documentary, Trash, Music
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Here is Malcolm McLaren, man about the music industry, to inform us of how he put together the Sex Pistols, possibly the most famous punk band of them all and if McLaren is accurate, one of the most successful - for him. He sets out his ten rules for making piles of cash in the rock business, first claiming to have put together the band so that they would all hate each other, all the better for him to manipulate them. Once he had his four (or was it five?) members, he made sure they couldn't play and set them to work on creating a state of anarchy in the U.K., blasting away the opposition with a sneer...

Of course, it's only McLaren's version of events that you're offered up here, which by all accounts was barely believable. By the time this was released, the Sex Pistols were all washed up, with John Lydon having left the band in disgust, Glen Matlock replaced by Sid Vicious, and Sid himself dead of a drugs overdose having been suspected of murdering his girlfriend Nancy Spungen (who also briefly appears in this). So far from the celebratory debunking that The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle was intended to be, it was actually a sad little deflating balloon of a film, the last shuddering gasp of what had been a promising band.

Not that you'd know this from McLaren's self-aggrandising lectures here, which start to grate from the very start and never become palatable. There were only two Pistols left for the filming of most of this, so Steve Jones features heavily as a private detective style character, flinging insults and behaving badly when what you really want to hear is his raucous guitar playing, and Paul Cook briefly registers but has hardly any lines. This is McLaren's show all the way, despite the writing credit going to director Julien Temple, and his liberal way with the facts is rarely convincing.

Funny thing is, it's not all bad. Amidst all this posturing and showing off, there are interesting elements, from the pretty good animation that sees the major players as cartoon characters - thus saving on any tricky live action that would have to see them use doubles for those who were absent from the project - to the news footage of the vintage Pistols gigs and the reaction to them. The Welsh Christians who combat punk with carol singing are especially amusing, as are the Americans interviewed, one of whom tells us that although he attacked Sid, he doesn't think he's worth killing.

On the other hand, there are lame attempts to stir up controversy by, for example, flying Jones and Cook out to Brazil to meet and record with train robber Ronnie Biggs, the result of which has them naked on the beach, frolicking with a man pretending to be Martin Boorman and subjects us to Biggs' dreadful crooning. But really, how controversial could your film be if you had Irene Handl as guest star (calling Tenpole Tudor "Tadpole")? Other guests include the soon to be dead Mary Millington who gets to act out sex with Jones and fifties rocker Jess Conrad, for reasons best known to himself. This was originally to have been a Russ Meyer film with a script by Roger Ebert, but you can imagine if that had gone ahead it wouldn't have been much more accomplished. One scene, however, hits the heights aimed for: Sid singing "My Way"; in the main, the rest doesn't come close.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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