The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle
Dir: Julian Temple
Star: The Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren, Helen of Troy, Irene Handl, Ronnie Biggs
Cert / Year: 18 - R / 1980
Format: VIDEO

There are some who say that the "punk rock" revolution was the byproduct of the musical assault waged by British punk pioneers The Sex Pistols. One person in particular, namely their manager, Malcolm McLaren believes that he started the punk rock phenomena and this film is a series of "lessons" on how he did it, why he did it and how much money he made doing it, whilst accompanied by a small band called The Sex Pistols

Bizarrely enough, notorious mammary obsessed American cult director Russ Meyer was originally signed on to direct this film but was eventually replaced by Julian Temple as a result of "creative differences". Temple also wrote the film and later went on to direct the other Sex Pistols documentary, The Filth and the Fury. The story is an embellished, fragmented and sometimes disjointed affair, which is nicely backed by some classic Sex Pistols music. Never mind the manufactured spoof This is Spinal Tap, here is a film about the band most of us remember from our youth and whose rebellious antics have inspired every rock star since and remain engrained in music history. The story is rather protracted and allegedly depicts (inaccurately I hasten to add) the rise and fall of British punk rock pioneers, The Sex Pistols.

Admittedly the "plot" is wafer thin bordering on transparent, as self proclaimed business and music maestro / impresario Malcolm McLaren repeatedly blows his own trumpet, creditting himself with the creation of punk rock and revolves around his 10 "lessons" on how he successfully manufactured The Sex Pistols and engineered the whole punk rock movement and phenomenon, all of which he relates to his female midget companion, patiently played by Helen of Troy. As if that weren't enough, McLaren then states that his entire motivation for engineering the whole punk rock phenomena and more specifically The Sex Pistols was to make an enormous amount of money, by swindling the vicious music industry in a series of well orchestrated and ultimately untenable record deals, which each of the respective record company's were forced to "buy off" as the band became more and more unmanageable and are unceremoniously dumped and sacked. In some cases the band were sacked before ever recording a single note. McLaren fuels his ego at every turn, assuming credit for pretty much everything ever fashionable, contoversial or just plain popular in one form or another. As if conning the music industry on both sides of the Atlantic wasn't enough, he even managed to dupe "Warners" into footing the bill for a film project called "Who Killed Bambi" set to be directed by Russ Meyer. Taking the 200,000 and doing a runner Malcolm McLaren eventually sank some of the band's unsquandered funds into this film instead and after some creative differences, Meyer pulled out as did some of the film's financial backing.

McLaren's risky gamble / plan did make almost a million pounds within 2 years which in the seventies was pretty good going, in addition to creating the most notorious band in music history and making an icon out of the spotty faced, spiky haired bass player Sid Vicious. Amidst the narcissistic, verbal ramblings of McLaren we have former guitarist Steve Jones portraying a sort of pseudo-detective trying to cut through McLaren's bull and find his erstwhile manager by following a series of poorly placed "clues" whilst also providing a seperate narrative as he tries to gain his share of the band's money, which McLaren also managed to swindle the band members out of as well as the cream of the music industry at that time. Punctuating the storyline are music video's, news footage and archive material (Some of which is fabricated) and rare concert footage. On top of this are some amusing, musically accompanied animated sequences charting certain points and events in the band's career.

The dialogue is delivered in thick accents and some are so broad that it does make Lock, Stock and two Smoking barrels seem intelligible. As most of the band were Londoners what do you expect. Plenty of the bands more rowdy instances are depicted including a brief highlights piece of the notorious "Bill Grundy Show" appearance, which leads to an onslaught of press clippings and archive news footage which includes the famous barge concert down the Thames to mark the Queen's jubilee. Make no mistake, this is a surreal experience and for anyone that remembers the punk scene and the "heights" of The Sex Pistols' fame and notoriety, this is going to be an interesting and entertaining film, especially when you hear the stark realism and purpose behind many of the "incidents". The perspective is somewhat skewed and the direction of Temple is reverentially arty if a touch bizarre. The scary thing is that this film is very Sex Pistols, in that it plays out like the band, in a rauccous and rowdy manner, fitting perfectly with tha band's personality and public image. This is not a film with a defined or a wide appeal, this is definately one for the fans of the Pistols or Punk rock in general. Unwary viewers are highly likely to be offended by a majority of the film as there are flashes of nudity (male and female) and more bad language than you can shake a stick at. Added to this is a paedophile record company executive, Martin Boorman (Prominent Nazi) singing "Belsen was a gas", Sid Vicious shooting his mother during a concert or even dressed in a swastika shirt and whilst strolling down a street in Paris he pulls a flick knife on a old French bloke and promptly begins taunting him. This is of course in addition to great train robber Ronnie Biggs dancing and jigging his way around Brazil during mardi gras with a couple of the Pistols before they recorded him singing "God Bless Myra Hindley and Ian Brady". These are of course only a couple of instances which are bound to shock, and yet for fans they will prove to be some of the most quaint and memorable moments. To be honest, Sid Vicious does steal the show and his antics alone are all too real, the film frames itself by finishing, after the hilarious animated rendition of "Friggin' in the Riggin'" with some newspaper cuttings reporting Sid's death by heroin overdose in New York, during his trial for murdering his fiance. This one act at the end of the film, affords it a more poignant feel than a mere jibe at the music industry or as a farcical exposition based upon the irreverent antics of the band and offers a more meaningful message.

Ok, so being honest, this is not a "great" film. In places there is a certain brilliance but it is not evenly maintained throughout. This is very much a rough with the smooth type of production, there is some stylish work in there, along with some not so stylish. The inserts of archive footage sometimes take over a little too much affording a confusing montage feel occasionally and the thread is lost. Brash and subtle as a firebomb, The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle has a distinct charm all of its own which will prove most popular with fans of the band. The film features some amusing cameo appearances by Tenpole Tudor, British Porn queen Mary Millington, popular television actress Irene Handl and many more prominent, trendy celebrities of the time. A bawdy, loud and offensive piece of film making but an entertaining chronicle and a must for any fan or anyone simply interested in knowing "were they really that bad?" ...... and.... "who killed Bambi"?


"People said we couldn't play! They called us foul mouthed yobs! But the only notes that really count, are the ones that come in wads!"

Rating: 2 out of 5

Reviewed by Logan Back Top Home