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Movie Review: The Filth and the Fury

Though I am writing this for a review of THE FILTH AND THE FURY, a documentary about the seminal punk band The Sex Pistols, actually the most recent feature-length movie I’ve seen in a theater was A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, which for some reason was re-released here in NYC.

While I’ve seen A CLOCKWORK ORANGE numerous times on video, I was very excited to see it on “the big screen” with an audience. As you can well imagine, my experience ended up being a complete nightmare mainly given how most movie audiences act these days.

First of all, I didn’t necessarily see the film on “the big screen”, I instead saw it on probably the worst movie screen in NYC. At the small arthouse theater where I saw the film, not only is the screen relatively tiny it’s down at the end of a hallway from where the audience sits. And I think the speakers are down there where the screen is, too. It’s the most bizarre set-up for a movie screen I have ever seen.

Next, of course, right when the movie begins and the camera dollies down the Korova Milk Bar to focus on Malcolm McDowell relaxing with his Droogs, the punk couple sitting a three or four seats away from me start chattering away like they are home watching the movie on the VCR. However, a quick and powerful “Shhh” from me shut them up right quick and they didn’t make a peep for the rest of the movie.

But then what really sort of disturbed me was the audience’s reaction to the film and their laughing at what I considered to be terribly inappropriate times in the film. I don’t like assuming other people’s thoughts and motives, but this audience’s laughter sounded like: “Look how hip we are that we know to laugh at these scenes”. Yeah, like, “HaHa, isn’t this rape scene funny?” I don’t think so.

Despite these annoyances, though, it was interesting watching the film again to see what a dead-on prophetic look at the future it was. Yes, it’s slightly exaggerated (slightly), but it’s also a fairly accurate representation of where our world culture is going. Which of course is straight to Hell.

A study of a youth culture with no morals, what makes CLOCKWORK such a timeless story is the fact that it is set in a nameless future where the characters speak an invented, stylized language. Had Anthony Burgess, the original author, set his story in contemporary times (the ’60s for him) and used contemporary youth slang, the book (and the film if Kubrick would have even made it) would have been simply a dated curiosity. Just dub over some of Alex’s odd colloquiums and with such language as “bitch”, “ho” and “pop a cap in yo’ ass” and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE could be set in the year 2000.

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE is also a very English movie, as The Sex Pistols were a very English band. As much as CLOCKWORK is about the brutal behavior of its young protagonist it is about the state’s ineffectualness in dealing with society’s ills. Who is more immoral: the violent thug who indiscriminately rapes women or the government who seeks to control the populace through brainwashing?

THE FILTH AND THE FURY opens with the members of The Sex Pistols (the alive ones, anyway) describing the culture in which the band was born. England didn’t seem like a very happy place in the late ’70s. A large percentage of the population was on welfare. There were endless riots in the street protesting the deplorable living conditions. A garbage strike kept the sidewalks filled with bags and bags of trash heaped up to the size of small apartment buildings. So, it’s no wonder The Sex Pistols, who grew up in this society of destitution and desolation, wrote a song with the haunting chorus of “No future, no future” (God Save the Queen).

And what’s most interesting about this documentary (besides watching Johnny Rotten crying about the death of his mate, Sid Vicious) is seeing how The Sex Pistols were born purely of a particular point in time, causing a major revolution in music and youth culture and were then unable to live beyond that moment of history.

Maybe Burgess’ other masterful stroke was having his main character be a connoisseur of classical music instead of him listening to the soundtrack of his time. Maybe that’s where the next big revolution in music will be: A youth culture addicted to Beethoven. Maybe it’s about time for punk and rock & roll to end its run. Maybe it’s just time to try something truly different.