Disc One: The Decline Of Western Civilization (1981)
The first film, The Decline Of Western Civilization, documents the Los Angeles punk scene in 1979 and 1980. It begins with a series of performers reading (or struggling to read, as in one case) the announcement to the audiences that they’re going to be filmed. (This is an element that would be used again in the second and third parts.) There is concert footage of Black Flag, Germs, Catholic Discipline (the band Phranc was in), X, Circle Jerks, Alice Bag Band and Fear. Often the song lyrics are shown on screen, which is helpful, because unless you’re familiar with some of this material, it’s sometimes difficult to make the words (like in the Germs’ “Manimal” for example). The film takes us into “The Church,” where Black Flag lived; and holy hell, wait until you see their “bedrooms.” There are interviews with band members, and they talk about making no money at gigs. X is one of my favorite bands of this first film, and I love when Exene shows the wacky religious pamphlets she’s collected. And there is footage of them performing “Johnny Hit And Run Paulene.” I really love the footage of Fear, as this band seems to have more of a sense of humor than most of the other bands (though when they say actual jokes, some chick shouts out the punchlines, so clearly they used these lines before). Fear’s “Let’s Have A War” is one of my favorite songs in this film, a fantastic tune playing on overpopulation. In addition to the bands, there are interviews with punk music fans, who talk about the violence. A lot of these guys come off as violent morons. “I probably hit lots of girls in the face,” one of them says. “I don’t like girls very much.”
There is such great raw energy, in both the music and the film itself. The film doesn’t have any kind of significant distance from its subject, but lets us get really close to the bands, and to the audience, with some pretty fucking great footage.
Disc One Bonus Material
The first disc contains a lot of bonus footage, including X signing a record deal and then setting fire to it, and Brendan Mullen giving a tour of Masque. There is more concert footage, including Fear performing “No More Nothing” (with the line, “No more Scientology,” which I appreciate), and The Gears performing “Elk’s Lodge Blues.” There is also a recent interview with Penelope Spheeris that Henry Rollins did, in which Penelope talks about Wayne’s World and how she came to the decision to do the third Decline film. There are also extended sequences with Black Flag, Darby Crash, X, Brendan Mullen, Nicole (Germs’ manager), and the fans.
The first disc also contains two commentary tracks. The first is done by director Penelope Spheeris and her daughter, Anna Fox, who helped put the DVD set together. The second is by Dave Grohl.
Disc Two: The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)
The second film, The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, was filmed in 1987-1988, and focuses on the metal bands in Los Angeles. It’s a bit different from the first film, because in the first one most of the bands featured weren’t yet well-known and hadn’t recorded any albums, while this one features interviews with established musicians, such as Steven Tyler and Joe Perry from Aerosmith; Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of Kiss; Lemmy of Motorhead; Bobby Dall, C.C. DeVille, Bret Michaels and Rikki Rockett of Poison; Alice Cooper; and Ozzy Osbourne. However, the concert footage is of bands that were at the time lesser known: Faster Pussycat, Lizzy Borden, London, Odin, Seduce and Megadeth. Paul Stanley (who is, for some reason, on a big bed with several girls) says, “I think heavy metal is the true rock and roll of the ‘80s.” And Lemmy says, “It’s fast and it’s aggressive and it’s rebellious and their parents hate it, which has always been the mark of good rock and roll.”
The groups talk about success, about alcohol, about men’s use of makeup, and about groupies. And there is definitely humor to this film. The band members of Faster Pussycat are pretty funny in their interview. When asked, “Do you use drugs,” they answer, “Aspirin.” When asked why they’re in rock and roll, one guy answers, “I’m just doing this until I can be a manager at McDonald’s or something.” And Ozzy Osbourne is absolutely delightful, talking about getting ripped off by his manager. The members of London are hilariously candid about their standing, and how as soon as a guy leaves the band he becomes a star. One of them tell us, “We are not role models for your life.” And Chris Holmes, guitarist from W.A.S.P., is clearly no one’s role model either, as he claims from a swimming pool, perhaps proudly, to be an alcoholic.
But even funnier is the stuff about the program to get kids off heavy metal. And the woman who was crowned Miss Gazzarri Dancer the previous year is bloody hilarious in her absolute stupidity, as she tells us she will “Hopefully get on with my actressing.” But most of those interviewed in this film are certain that they’re going to make it. Odin’s great in the hot tub interview, talking about reaching superstardom. Penelope asks, “What if it doesn’t happen?” Lead singer Randy O says, “It’s gonna happen.”
Disc Two Bonus Material
The second disc contains approximately two hours of extended interviews. Though the picture has degraded over the years, these interviews contain some interesting material. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry talk about “Dude (Looks Like A Lady),” which at the time was Aerosmith’s new single. Alice Cooper talks about the influence of The Yardbirds, and about his character and how he looks forward to being Alice. There is more of the pool interview with Chris Holmes. When Penelope Spheeris asks him why he got all his tattoos, Chris replies, “My mom made me get them.” His mother offers some thoughts too. Perhaps surprisingly Chris mentions liking Willie Nelson and Neil Young. And Lemmy mentions listening to The Everly Brothers, The Beach Boys and Abba. Gene Simmons tells the whole story of a crazy girl who came to his room one night. Probably the best stuff is Ozzy Osbourne in the kitchen. He is so funny and (at this point) articulate.
The second disc also contains a commentary track by Penelope Spheeris and Nadir D’Priest (from the band London). This track offers some interesting information on the shooting of the film. For example, the Ozzy interview was conducted at the producer’s house, not his own. And Penelope reveals that the spilling of the orange juice was staged afterwards (which I had a guessed, because it’s such an odd cut-away). There is also interesting information about the Aerosmith interview. The hot tub sequence with Odin was actually filmed in Penelope’s yard. She says that Randy O was the only guy around who could get away with the ass-less pants. She also reveals that the vodka bottle that Chris Holmes drank was filled with water (something which Randy O had told me a few months ago), and that pool was the producer’s pool. This disc also contains the film’s trailer.
Disc Three: The Decline Of Western Civilization Part III (1998)
The Decline Of Western Civilization Part III is the most interesting of the three films, and the most emotionally engaging. I was nearly in tears in certain sections. While this one returns to punk music, the focus is less on the bands than on a group of homeless teenagers who are a part of the scene. And because of this it has a much more serious tone than the other films. The kids talk about having been abused at home, and about drinking. (“Hi, Mom. Thanks for making me an alcoholic. I love you.”) We see the kids asking for money on the streets. But there is still plenty of music, including some very cool tunes. I particularly love “Bootlickin’ Boy” by The Resistance. In addition to The Resistance, there is footage of Final Conflict, Litmus Green and Naked Aggression, as well as interviews with Keith Morris (from Black Flag and Circle Jerks), Rick Wilder (from The Mau-Maus) and Flea (from Fear and, later, The Red Hot Chili Peppers).
Disc Three Bonus Material
The third disc includes extended interviews with Flea, Keith Morris, and Rick Wilder. The best interview, however, is with Leonard Phillips of The Dickies, who is incredibly articulate and candid. There is also more with the kids, who talk about their nicknames. There is also footage of the whole group walking in the city, mostly toward the camera, which of course will remind you of similar footage from Penelope Spheeris’ Suburbia.
The bonus material also includes footage from a panel on the first and third films, with Penelope Spheeris, Lee Ving (of Fear), Greg Hetson (of Circle Jerks) and Kirsten Patches (of Naked Aggression), and moderated by Mark Toscano. Penelope talks about the difficulty of getting the first film screened and distributed. There is also footage of Penelope introducing the third film at the premiere, and a short interview from the Sundance Film Festival. And there is a bit of behind-the-scenes footage with some commentary by Penelope (in which she reveals that one of the kids is now her boyfriend – she met him while filming The Decline Of Western Civilization Part III). And of course, the film’s trailer is included.
Disc Four: Bonus Material
The box set includes a fourth disc of bonus material, which features more extended interviews from the second film, including Megadeth, London, Odin and Poison. The guys from Odin talk about their tour, and the band’s road manager talks about the costs involved, resulting in the band often not making any money. Bret Michaels (from Poison) talks about critics. Nadir D’Priest and Lizzie Grey (of London) talk about the explosions used during a performance of “Russian Winter,” and offer the entire story about the cop incident, as well as the handcuffs story. There is also footage of fans in line to see Megadeth, and well as more footage of folks handing out flyers on the Sunset Strip, with a bit with Odin and a guy from Warrant.
There are a couple of panels. The first is about the third film, with Penelope Spheeris, Alice Bag, Lee Ving, Keith Morris and Kirsten Patches. The second is about the second film, with Penelope Spheeris, Nadir D’Priest, Riki Rachtman and Rikki Rockett. And there are a couple of interviews with Penelope Spheeris, one conducted by Tawn Mastrey, the other by Mark Toscano.
The Decline Of Western Civilization Collection was released on June 30, 2015 through Shout! Factory.