Just told a story about seeing this for the 1st time in London in the spring of 1980 the other day, and then seeing it's New York Premiere at the ROXY roller rink in NYC a few years later on a small TV in the middle of the skating floor... seeing the film a second time wasn't that exciting, but getting to see the Rock Steady Crew practice afterword once all the punks left (except me and a few of the Beastie's) with virtually no one around to take much notice in 1982 was something I'll never forget...
Julian Temple’s 1980 mockumentary The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle attempts to drain the last bit of blood from the corpse of The Sex Pistols. With Pistols’ Svengali Malcolm McClaren as his accessory in this crime against historical fact, Temple depicts the Pistols as a sham act with little or no bona fide talent foisted on an easily manipulated youth culture. Of course, he was wrong and would later do penance by directing the far more accurate documentary The Filth and The Fury 20 years later.
McClaren may have constructed The Sex Pistols but once his monster was out of the lab it was a genuine force to be reckoned with. The Pistols influence is as potent now as it was the day they were born. McClaren had a genius for promotion and anticipating/creating trends, but he was mad for thinking that the Pistols were solely a product of his own ego-driven machinations. The raw material was already there.
The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle may have been intended as a joke, but the joke ended up being on its creators, not the band or its fans. Temple may have been trying to make a satirical film about a rock band as pop culture product along the lines of Bob Rafaelson’s Monkees’ flick Head, but he did so without any of Rafaelson’s imagination, wit or charm. While Head was a surreal and entertaining romp, Swindle has the stench of something gone sour.
Chaotic, tiresome, but not without moments of brilliance (Temple is no hack) and great live music, here’s THE GREAT ROCK ‘N’ ROLL SWINDLE in its entirety. Very nice quality.