Written by: Michael Den Boer on June 26th, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: UK, 1980
Director: Julien Temple
Writer: Julien Temple
Cast: Malcolm McLaren, Steve Jones, Sid Vicious, Paul Cook, John Lydon
DVD released: June 28th, 2005
Approximate running time: 110 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 & Stereo
DVD Release: Shout Factory
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.98
The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, is primarily comprised of footage Julien Temple shot for two short subjects about the Sex Pistols titled “Sex Pistols Number 1” and “Sex Pistols Number 2”. The rest of the scenes that comprise the rest of the film mostly consist of Malcolm McLaren (the Sex Pistols manager at the time) as he lays the groundwork for the ten rules of how to assemble the perfect punk band. Outside of Malcolm McLaren’s role which is the largest in the film the only Sex Pistol who even gets any ample screen time is Steve Jones who plays a Humphrey Bogart like detective that is looking for Malcolm McLaren because he owes him money. Steve Jones role is beyond ironic since in real life all the Sex Pistols were trying to play catch up with Malcolm McLaren who had literally taken all their money and ran. The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle was financed by money that actually belonged to the Sex Pistols and not McLaren who had always wanted to be a star in his own right. This film is at its best when footage with the band either in concert or giving an interview is incorporated into the film and it is at its worst during the scene that include Malcolm McLaren who apparently made this film as vanity project to launch himself as an artist. The animation sequences for songs like Bodies and Friggin’ in the Riggin’ are really cool to watch as they show part of the bands history that wasn’t ever captured on film. The Sex Pistols would have made an awesome Saturday morning cartoon. This film also suffers from a lack of a coherent plot that is not helped at times as this pseudo documentary often mixes fact with fiction.
The Sex Pistol who seems to of come out the best in this film is Sid Vicious who steals the show during his three song segments most notably his rendition of “My Way” and the films funniest moment is when Sid sings “Something Else” in his Speedo thong. Too call this a Sex Pistols movie is kind of misleading since Johnny Rotten had left the band before filming began. He only appears in clips culled from the Sex Pistols archives and he even has a brief appearance as a Johnny Rotten Halloween like mask. Musically this films’ has all the songs that we most identify with the band and in many ways the films chaotic structure appropriately resembles the chaos the engulfed the band everywhere they went. In the world of entertainment timing is everything and the Sex Pistols knew more then any other band that there is nothing worst then staying past your welcome. The Sex Pistols were only together a mere two years and recorded for four different record labels, still the impact of their music resonates more now then ever with today’s music scene littered with perfect looking people that make some of the most contrived shit ever recorded. The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle isn’t really about the Sex Pistols as much as it is an ego stroke for their Manager Malcolm McLaren. Nearly twenty years The Sex Pistols and director Julien Temple would set the record straight with The Filth and the Fury which is a more accurate account of what happened then Malcolm McLaren’s delusional version The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle.
The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, is presented in a full frame format that preserves the films original aspect ratio. The image quality various depending on the source of the clip for instance the footage shot exclusively for this film looks the best while clips of the band playing or at an interview at times is not in the greatest shape. Considering the rarity of some of the clips included the overall is in great shape and it is the best this film has looked to date on home video. This DVD comes with two audio options Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital stereo both are presented in English. While both tracks are more then adequate I preferred the fuller Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix. The audio is clean and music comes through with a lot of force. There are no problems with hiss or distortion. My only problem with the audio is that dialog sounds a bit thin at times. Extras include an interview that runs about nineteen minutes with Julien Temple who discusses working on the film and his working relationship with Malcolm McLaren. Julien Temple was brought in to finish the film when McLaren fired Russ Meyers the films original director. Rounding out the extras is a highly entertaining and informative audio commentary with director Julien Temple and an unnamed moderator. The commentary runs the length of the film even though there at times moments of silence in between comments. Even though they are only a few extras included they are both invaluable in their background information about the making of The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle. Johnny Rotten’s famous quote during their Wonderland concert “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” perfectly sums up The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle. I would recommended that anyone who is interested in the band that they check out the excellent The Filth and the Fury documentary instead of wasting their time on this botched pseudo documentary. While this films is far from perfect it does offer fans a chance to see rare clips of the bands performing that is not available elsewhere. This film is for Sex Pistols completest only.
For more information about The Sex Pistols visit their official website.