On the Passage of a few People through a Rather Brief Moment in Time: The Situationist International 1956-1972 is an interesting short film by Branka Bogdanov primarily documenting the work of ultra-leftist French philosopher Guy Debord, author of the influential post Marxist study of 20th capitalism Society of the Spectacle. The film explores Debord’s influence on the Paris riots of May 1968 and the nihilistic aesthetics of the punk rock era.
Interviewees include Greil Marcus, Malcolm McLaren and Sex Pistols graphic designer Jamie Reid.
Malcolm McLaren unleashed the greatest revolution of the last quarter of the 20th century. This was in part because McLaren was really a shop-keeper, a haberdasher, a boutique owner who knew his market and, most importantly, knew how to sell product to the masses.
Unfortunately, when it came to music, the talent was more than just product, and McLaren regularly mis-used and manipulated the musical talent (New York Dolls, Sex Pistols, Adam and The Ants/Bow-Wow-Wow) for his own personal gain. It was the behavior of a man who couldn’t and didn’t trust anyone—perhaps because (as he claimed) he had been abandoned by his mother—an act of betrayal he never forgave. There is the story of how years later, McLaren was have said to have traveled on a London Underground train, only to find his mother in the same carriage. The pair sat opposite each other, with neither acknowledging the other’s presence, and each alighting at their separate stops.
McLaren was bewitching, relentless and always on the make. But for all his scams and incredible machinations, little is really known about the man himself. He re-wrote his biography so many times it is almost impossible to know what is the truth. He also carefully edited out those who had helped his success, and fabricated wonderful, picaresque tales of misadventure—-for example, the time he failed to have Nancy Spungen kidnapped, in a bid to remove her insidious influence over Sid Vicious.
In essence, Malcolm’s greatest talent was his own self-promotion—his unique role as a cultural PR man, who changed history. If there is anything to be learned from his particular type of genius, it is to make headlines out of even the worst situation. On his deathbed, Mclaren’s last words were said to have been: “Free Leonard Peltier.” As he had done in his life, McLaren had once again grabbed hold of someone else’s notoriety.
Who Killed Bill? is a Sex Pistols for Dummies, bargain-bin video, consisting of a mixed collection of original archive news stories (mainly culled from London Weekend Television) and documentary footage, which tells the rise, demise, and return of the legendary band. It’s worth watching for the first fifty minutes or so, before the film veers off into a section on Vivienne Westwood’s fashion, then returning for the Filthy Lucre tour of 1996, and then beyond.
As it’s all original TV archive, there are some classic moments, including the early Janet Street-Porter interviews with the Pistols, and then with Lydon after his spilt, as well as coverage of the public’s fury for the band, and one disgruntled councillor who riffs off a long list of adjectives to describe his distaste for Punk Rock, before finishing with:
“Most of these groups would be improved by sudden death.”
There is also sections on Sid and Nancy the tragic couple and Alex Cox’s film. What’s quite startling is how The Pistols all look so young, and Lydon comes across as a shy, tense, nervous individual who seems ill at ease with his celebrity, describing its affects:
“It ain’t the person who changes, it’s people’s attitude towards them.”
Sadly, no classic tracks, just bogus lift muzak interpretations of a rhythmic Punk guitar. And the Bill of the title is, of course, Bill Grundy, he of the infamous launch-pad, “Filth and Fury” interview.
A revealing interview with Sid Vicious conducted by Judy Vermorel in August, 1977. In it Vicious rails against “grown-ups” and “grown-up attitudes”, TV host Hughie Green, insincerity, and why “the general public are scum” (his opinion about “99% of the shit” out on the street).
Vicious sounds incredibly young, perhaps because he was, and claims he “doesn’t like anything particularly” and that, “Nobody has to do anything”. There is some interesting thoughts on Russ Meyer’s plans for a Sex Pistols’ movie, which Sid dismisses as a “cheap attempt to get money.”
At the end, he rails against Malcolm McLaren, slightly incredulous to the information that Johnny Rotten and Paul Cook thought McLaren was the fifth member of the Pistols:
The band has never been dependent on Malcolm, that fucking toss-bag. I hate him..I’d smash his face in…I depend on him for exactly nothing. Do you know, all I ever got out of him was, I think, £15 in all the time I’ve known the fucking bastard. And a T-shirt, he gave me a free T-shirt, once, years ago. Once he gave me a fiver, and I stole a tenner off him, a little while ago, and that’s all. I hate him.
..But he’s all right. I couldn’t think of anyone else I could tolerate.
This is the interview where Vicious famously made an eerie prediction:
“I shall die when I am round-about twenty-four, I expect, if not sooner. And why my friend will die soon.”
His friend was “that girl” Nancy Spungen, who can be heard in the background of this interview.
This excellent documentary on Malcolm McLaren was originally shown as part of Melvyn Bragg’s South Bank Show in 1984, when McLaren was recording Fans—his seminal fusion of R&B and opera. Apart from great access and behind-the-scenes footage, the film and boasts revealing interviews with Boy George, Adam Ant, Bow-Wow-Wow’s Annabella Lwin, Sex Pistol, Steve Jones, as well as the great man himself.
Everyone whoever came into contact with McLaren had an opinion of the kind of man he was and what he was about. Steve Jones thought him a con man; Adam Ant didn’t understand his anarchy; Boy George couldn’t fathom his lack of interest in having success, especially when he could have had it all; while Annabella Lwin pointed out how he used people to do the very things he wanted to do himself.
All of the above are true. But for McLaren, the answer was simple: “Boys will be boys,” and he saw his role was as:
“To question authority and challenge conventions, is what makes my life exciting.”
At the time, Ebert had no idea who the Sex Pistols were. The Pistols, though, very much wanted to work with the creative team behind Dolls, a movie Johnny Rotten deemed as being, “true to life.” It’s a funny, informative account that somehow, along the way, accommodates both P.J. Proby and Scientology.
As to why the movie, Who Killed Bambi?, never happened, various reasons have been circulated: Maybe 20th Century Fox pulled the plug after reading the resulting screenplay, or McLaren’s shaky finances would never have covered the film’s budget. Or perhaps, most intriguingly, (Princess) Grace Kelly, who served on the Fox board of directors, simply didn’t want the studio to back another Russ Meyer X-travaganza (likely profits be damned).
Just then the SEX PISTOLS appear on the screen. They’re dressed in what could be described as Proto-Punk: The look is definitely different from that of the other people on the line, and yet isn’t as well-defined as it will be later on.
They split up to work the line: They’re of it, but not in it. STEVE carries his guitar, vaguely suggesting they’re into music of some sort. SID VICIOUS goes into his famous Sun-Glasses dance, his hands inverted and placed in front of his eyes to suggest either binoculars or a Batman-style headdress. The Pistols seem amused by the notion that people would stand in line in an unemployment queue at all.
Proby watches, fascinated by their wonderfully Downtrodden look, as they approach the others.
SID VICIOUS (to the Miner)
Why stand in line, you silly twit?
It’s your money - why wait for it?
Why don’t they provide seating out here?
The crowd grows silent, uneasy, in the face of the attack.
They take it with one hand and give it back with the other.
So smash it and take it!
And while Ebert refuses to comment on his script, “I can’t discuss what I wrote, why I wrote it, or what I should or shouldn’t have written. Frankly, I have no idea,” here he is in ‘88 with Meyer and McLaren discussing—and venting over—Who Killed Bambi?
A horse-drawn carriage led the coffin of Malcolm McLaren through the streets of London today. The coffin was black and spray-painted, “Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die,” the name, at one point, of the former Sex Pistols manager’s King’s Road clothing shop.
In celebration of the impresario’s life, McLaren’s son (and Agent Provocateur founder), Joseph Corré, urged people to enjoy a midday moment of mayhem: “Put on your favourite records and let it RIP!” I’ll be playing this.