The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle

Dir: Julien Temple, 1980


great rock 'n' roll swindle

“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” – John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon

A mockumentary on the creation and ultimate downfall of seminal punk band The Sex Pistols, Temple’s film is a ragbag of sorts.

It’s kind of a bizarre film.

The Pistols themselves appear, minus Johnny Rotten. Steve Jones is a private detective. Malcolm McLaren is…well…Malcolm McLaren, as irritating here as he always was.

Rotten is in the film but only in archive footage and is credited as playing The Embezzler.

This is McLaren’s film. It’s not a film about The Sex Pistols.

The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle is McLaren’s attempt to show off and just be, what is basically an arse.

There are a lot of positives about the film which redeem it from the dregs of garbage.

Several sequences of animation are particularly impressive and fit the real story of the band, rather neatly.

If Temple had, maybe, made the entire film as a cartoon and not filled it with McLaren and ridiculous subplots, it might have worked.

Interestingly, the film does allow us to see discarded footage from a previous film that was to be made about the group.

Russ Meyer, director of such trash like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, was to have directed the movie written by the hypocritical film critic Roger Ebert.

Some location footage was shot featuring a very young Sting of The Police.

But, without a doubt, the star of the show is Sid Vicious. Swaggering, menacing and totally out of conrol, he was a true showman.

His rendition of the Frank Sinatra classic My Way is the highlight of the film.

Clad in a white tuxedo he chews up and gobs the lyrics out, snarling as he does it, before taking a revolver out and shooting the audience and walking off without a care in the world.

Unfortunately, drugs was always a part of his life and would prove to eventually be his downfall with a heroin overdose claiming his life in 1979.

In a mysterious case that still isn’t officially solved to this day, Vicious’s girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, was found stabbed to death in Vicious’s hotel room after they’d both had a heavy bout of taking heroin.

The bass player (who couldn’t play the bass in real life) was charged with murder but died before going to trial and the release of this film. He always maintained his innocence.

However, seeing as Malcolm McLaren is intent on being the star and demanding as much screen time as possible, this historical fact is glossed over.

No doubt acting like a petulant child, the former beau of fashion designer Vivienne Westwood insists on taking credit for the formation of the Pistols and truly believes that this story is what happened.

Controversially, guitarist Steve Jones and drummer Paul Cook travelled to Rio de Janeiro to record a song with a member of the gang who performed the Great Train Robbery, Ronnie Biggs.

Biggs had been on the run from British police after escaping from prison, 15 months into his sentence.

To make up the cast of the film, Temple employs a host of former British celebrities, such as Jess Conrad, Carry On…star Liz Frazer, Irene Handl and porn actress Mary Millington. Singer Ed Tudor-Pole of Ten Pole Tudor and The Crystal Maze fame turns up as ticket vendor in a cinema., singing Who Killed Bambi?

The Pistols were always a thorn in the side of the establishment and the British censors were no different. Passed the film with an uncut ‘X’ certificate, the board insisted that an addendum be added on to the film showing the downside to being a punk.

Temple finishes the film with newspaper clippings about the death of Spungen and Vicious’s overdose.

To be fair, this actually works in the films favour and rounds things up providing a suitable end to what is, arguably, the most controversial group ever.

Another oddity is the poster. If you look carefully, you can clearly see that Sid Vicious is wearing a white t-shirt. But, when the film was released on video, Vicious’s t-shirt is covered in blood stains. The DVD sleeve removes the blood again. Was this an act of censorship? I don’t think we’ll ever really know.

It has a great soundtrack, especially the end title theme Friggin’ In The Riggin.

Watch it for curiousity but, then, go out and watch Julien Temple’s other proper documentary on the group, The Filth and the Fury.


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