The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle

"Excellent"

The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle Review


Malcolm McLaren is a dirty sot. He wants it that way, his public life - as far as he sees it - was nothing more than a street performance, a theatre of the absurd for the jaded masses. As manager of the decisive (and many argue, last) punk band, the Sex Pistols, McLaren took the envelope and literally kicked it out the window. And here, in an outlandish collage by film student Julian Temple, he foists upon the audience the novel idea that the whole Sex Pistols "scene" was a ruse, a scam, a swindle, to make a ton of dough. McLaren asserts that he ran the show and that the Pistols were a bunch of talentless losers. Now that's punk, baby!

Ah, but McLaren is lying through his teeth when he tells us that. In The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle the line between documentary and fiction, truth and lie, becomes so blurred that it becomes unnecessary.

The "plot" consists of McLaren tooting his horn, the Sex Pistols performing, music videos flashing, bizarre animation segments gnashing, midgets thrashing, and Ronnie Biggs (the infamous British train robber who pulled off the Great Train Robbery in 1963) talking. It's a delirious hodge-podge that makes The Filth and the Fury, Temple's later "documentary" about the band, look perfectly staid. It ends with Sid Vicious in Paris singing Sinatra's "My Way" and then shooting the audience.

The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle attempts to translate punk to film, it's trying to fit a movement into a bottle. And in many ways it succeeds admirably, mostly because it fails. That sounds like a load of Post-Modernism 101 bullshit, but it's true. Punk was the antithesis of "punk." According to the unwritten (naturally) laws of punk, punk became popular only when it died. It was, simply, born to fail. Ah, but there's a cunning, almost diabolical, joke here. When punk broke, people like McLaren made money. They achieved a very un-punk status and they enjoyed every minute of it. You see, according to McLaren and punk, anyone who buys into the "show" is a sucker. The genius behind the marketing is foolproof: The kid in leather with a mohawk who eats ground glass is a sucker. The true punk is the guy who made mohawks and glass eating cool and walked away with a ton of filthy lucre.

As a film, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle is scanty. Like McLaren it's full of cheap shots and low blows. The actual swindle here isn't of the record companies. Much, I'm sure, to McLaren's chagrin. (Though there is a rumor that most of the money spent by McLaren on The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle was in fact swindled by McLaren from the band!) No, Rock and Roll (yes, with caps) was swindled. It was taken for everything it had. The real stars of The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle remain the Sex Pistols; despite McLaren's contention that they were hacks, just a few minutes of seeing Sid Vicious snarling on stage is enough to convince anyone that the only person McLaren was fooling was himself.

Brilliant.

Note: I just love some of the trivia surrounding this picture. How "punk" is this: Originally the film was to have been directed by Russ Meyer and scripted by Roger Ebert!

Aka Sex Pistols - The Great Rock and Roll Swindle.



The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle

Facts and Figures

Run time: 103 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 12th March 1981

Production compaines: Boyd's Company, Kendon Films Ltd., Matrixbest, Virgin Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 6

IMDB: 6.6 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: Malcolm McClaren as The Embezzler, as The Crook, as The Tea-Maker, as The Gimmick, as The Collaborator (as Johnny Rotten), as The Exile (as Ronnie Biggs), as Woman in Cinema, Jess Conrad as Jess, as Mary, The Crook's girlfriend, as Record Executive, Julian Holloway as Man, as Nazi, Helen Wellington-Lloyd as Helen (as Helen of Troy), as Tadpole (kiosk attendant) (as Tenpole Tudor), Faye Hart as Secretary, Alan Jones as Record Executive, as Cinema Usherette, Judy Croll as Catwoman (uncredited), Peter Dean as Nightclub Bouncer (uncredited), Dave Dee as Record Executive (uncredited), Jerzimy as French singer on the street (uncredited), James Jeter as Martin Bormann (uncredited), Jordan as Girl wearing 'only anarchists are pretty shirt' (uncredited), Debbie Juvenile as Girl on the chorus at the opening track (uncredited), as Ex-Pistol (uncredited), Sophie Richmond as McLaren's secretary (uncredited), Nancy Spungen as Nancy (uncredited), Jean Warren as Girl with ants on face (uncredited)

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