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Sex Pistols - The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle

3.9 out of 5 stars 50 customer reviews

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(May 17, 2005)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The Definitive Punk Movie - Finally on DVD!

The Sex Pistols star in director Julien Temple’s bizarre and hilarious fictional documentary that charts the rise and fall of punk’s most notorious band through the eyes of its calculating manager, Malcolm McLaren. Mixing animation and midgets with footage of some of The Pistols’ most electrifying live performances, the 1980 film presents the band’s success as an elaborate scam perpetrated by McLaren to make "a million pounds" at the expense of record companies, outraged moralists, the British Royal Family—and even the fans and band members themselves.

The Great Rock Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle was called "a parable of our times" by the Guardian (UK), but most music fans simply consider it one of the best rock films ever. More than 25 years after their breakup, The Sex Pistols’ music continues to influence punk and post-punk bands the world over. The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle shows why.

Interview and commentary with director Julien Temple by Chris Salewicz
5.1 Surround Sound


Cheeky and chaotic, the 1980 The Great Rock 'N' Roll Swindle began life as a Russ Meyer project (co-written by Roger Ebert) called Who Killed Bambi?. Julien Temple (Earth Girls Are Easy) took over, working closely with the Pistols' former manager, Malcolm McClaren, and overhauled the script to focus almost exclusively on McClaren's self-serving recollections of turning an unknown band into a success through poor musicianship, crafty bookings, and well-publicized bad manners at pivotal moments. Temple's rococo approach evokes an 18th century riot (in which effigies of the Pistols are burned), noir-like passages featuring guitarist Steve Jones as a thief, and the unholy sight of McClaren taking a bath in palatial surroundings. There's little footage of the Pistols themselves, though what exists is choice: the band's infamous Jubilee Day performance on the Thames, their last gig in San Francisco. Years later, McClaren's contention that he pulled one over on us because the Pistols couldn't play is patently absurd. --Tom Keogh

Special Features

  • Interview and commentary with director Julien Temple by rock writer Chris Salewicz

Product Details

  • Actors: Malcolm McLaren, Sid Vicious, Steve Jones, Paul Cook, John Lydon
  • Directors: Julien Temple
  • Writers: Julien Temple
  • Producers: Don Boyd, Jeremy Thomas
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Color, Dolby, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Shout Factory
  • DVD Release Date: May 17, 2005
  • Run Time: 103 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0008G2748
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #60,915 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Sex Pistols - The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: VHS Tape
This movie is probably more enjoyable for Pistols fans than for others; plus Pistols fans will be able to tell when Malcolm McLaren is, er, stretching the truth a bit: "But my greatest invention was what they called 'the Punk Rock'" he hisses from behind a leather S&M mask in the opening sequence. There's some sharp, funny stuff here, as many of McLaren's "commandments" for rock'n'roll stardom can be seen today in pop: the cynicisms of executives and marketers who have no real interest in music; the "pre-fabricated" band; the commodification of rebellion.
Thing is, the Sex Pistols were greater than even McLaren could have ever imagined. Compare the cheesy, corny sequences, many with McLaren, to those in which Johnny Rotten is on-screen: Rotten's intent is so gleefully mad, so mesmerizing and ferocious, that it completely undercuts Malcolm's prancing about, his art-school theories, and his impresario pretensions. Watching Johnny, Sid, Steve and Paul in rehearsal (singing "No Feelings") or in a "video" ("God Save the Queen" and "Pretty Vacant") or live on-stage in Dallas and San Francisco (their last ever gig) is a real thrill--equal parts subversion (Johnny) and stupidity (Sid). Really, these are the best parts of the film....
Except for the classic scenes of Sid Vicious, all filmed less than a year before he died. Here Sid stalks Paris, clad in spiked leathers, engineer boots, and a bright-red swastika T-shirt, mocking the populace and stealing sweets. He kisses a poster of Clint Eastwood. He attacks a prostitute. And later that night he appears to a sell-out crowd, clad in tuxes and ball gowns, and astonishes them with his immortal trashing of "My Way."
Wisely, the film ends after that. I mean really, what could have topped it!
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Format: DVD
It's good to see this film finally out on DVD, but the movie deserved a better DVD release than this one -- not because it's an accurate telling of the Sex Pistols' story (it's not) or because it's even particularly coherent (it's not), but because it's an extremely entertaining and bizarre period piece.

First of all, this sorta (some might say "pseudo") documentary tells the story from the perspective of the band's manager Malcolm McLaren, who is a BS artist of the highest order. Other reviewers have already laid out all the claims he makes -- he created the Sex Pistols solely for the purpose of swindling the record companies, the Pistols were not meant to have any talent, blah blah. Of course I don't believe what he says, and I'm not sure even he believes it, but it still makes for a great story nonetheless. Putting aside the veracity of McLaren's story, this movie isn't really even a proper documentary, but a random and bizarre mish-mash of archive footage of various Sex Pistols performances mixed in with McLaren's own self-indulgent babblings, animated skits, fictional re-enactments, an extended portion which follows ex-Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook to Brazil to hook up with notorious train robber Ronnie Biggs, and some truly weird scenes (such as the masked man who bursts into a room with a talking Rottweiler). No, it's not accurate or even a conventional documentary, but if you appreciate bizarre stuff like I do, it's quite entertaining and often hilarious.

Too bad the DVD release isn't particularly good. As other people have already said, the film transfer is lame (and at least on my DVD, there are some really annoying black dots at the right edge of the screen), and there's not a whole lot in the way of DVD extra goodies.
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Format: DVD
I would put this as a classic midnight movie....

The movie had potential to be funnier than it was but wound up being far more disjointed than it should have been... it seemed like they were trying to do a "Hard Days Night" type of film. Another obstacle they faced was that Johnny Rotten wanted nothing to do with this film, and is only seen in the concert footage and interviews. The US tour footage was great to watch, they really should have released the Dallas and San Fran footage in its entirety here.

In a way, it's this film that made Sid Vicious a tragic hero and turned him into even more of a cartoon parody of himself, but the "My Way" scene is classic. The animation is funny, silly, and memorable. It also fills in some blanks, like Lydon's stabbing and the record company incident where they were out of control. Would have made a great adult cartoon had they chose to take it all the way.

The film is worth it for the Pistols footage, but the whole Ronnie Biggs thing was pretty much pointless. Steve Jones and Malcolm McLaren provided the barebones "continudity" throughout the film. Glen Matlock is also seen but nothing much more.

The film is an essential for Pistols fans as well as fans of punk rock, although definitely not for anyone under 16. If you're looking for a documentary of the Pistols, this is not the film.

Julien Temple's "Filth and the Fury" is THE Pistols documentary bar none and puts more depth into Vicious as well as Lydon being involved, the Classic Albums series of "NMTB", and the Ramones "End of the Century" as well.

Johnny Rotten would try his hand at acting in a film called "Corrupt" with Harvey Keitel(!), a film that went nowhere.

Don Letts (who was there from the beginning...
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