Rating: Not Rated
Length: 100 minutes
Director: Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World; Suburbia)
Writer: Penelope Spheeris (Suburbia; The Little Rascals)
Starring: Black Flag, The Germs, X, The Circle Jerks, Fear, Alice Bag Band, Catholic Discipline
Punk rock migrated to the West Coast of the United States the same way a secret makes it’s way through an elementary classroom. By the time it reaches the last student, it’s changed so much it barely resembles the original statement. “The Decline of Western Civilization” was a mystic film in my youth, seen by all of my friends on a blurry VHS that was a copy of a copy presumably. Seeing it again brought back a lot of found memories and now that I’m older I was able to appreciate the documentary on a fuller level. Back then I was just happy to see The Germs and Black Flag in a movie. I mean, I got to see the late, great Darby Crash performing live! Writer/Director Penelope Spheeris (who later went on to direct “Wayne’s World” and write episodes of “Roseanne”) filmed the movie between 1979 and 1980- shortly before Crash’s intentionally fatal heroin overdose. It’s a time when punk had been around in the East. The Sex Pistols, the Ramones, the Clash, the Talking Heads, CBGB- everything had happened and now it was time for the Western interpretation. The music was faster and rawer. The Germs, like the Stooges before them, started off not knowing how to even play their instruments and morphed into a band. The lyrics are supposed to be more political, but they seem to be more about angst and depression- hence Black Flag’s historic performance of “Depression” here. If you’re a punk fan and it’s because you’re only familiar with the music thanks to Green Day or the Offspring, this should be mandatory viewing. If you’re a fan of documentaries in general, this should be mandatory viewing. It offers what every good documentary should- a glance into a subject that deserves to be examined beyond it’s exterior. Besides the performances, we get backstage looks at Black Flag living in an abandoned church for $15 a month (they calculate that they actually lose money by being in the band). X is the band of the moment and they lament, as they tattoo each other, that they aren’t sure they should be being playing songs about being poor anymore. And, of course, the film’s purest punk moment- when a friend of the Germs tells a story about the band discovering a dead painter in their backyard. He had been there for a few days, unnoticed. They took pictures with him. “It was funny!”, she exclaims. That’s the point in the picture when the title of the movie makes perfect sense.