Tag Archives: B

THE FILTH AND THE FURY

Julien Temple’s new documentary dealing with the revolutionary
Punk Rock band The Sex Pistols can be bookended with his
earlier “The Great Rock and Roll Swindle” (1980), which told
the tale of the group’s brief, notorious history and ultimate
collapse from the point of view of its self-serving manager
Malcolm McLaren, who gave himself total credit for the Pistols’
meteoric rise and put blame for their calamitous descent on the
unruly members of the band. The second picture covers much of
the same territory, but is told from the band’s perspective,
with McLaren portrayed in a far less favorable light. The
juxtaposition of the two makes for an intriguing experiment in
oral and cinematic history. And on its own terms, “The Filth
and the Fury” (the title, of course, has a Shakespearean twist,
but actually derives from a headline about the Pistols’ antics
which appeared in a Fleet Street tabloid) is certainly engaging
to watch and often compelling to ruminate on. Using lots of
found footage and old interview tapes, as well as newly-
recorded conversations, Temple manages not only to rehearse
the unhappy story of the group’s rise and fall, but to capture
quite effectively the English milieu of the time, with its
combination of economic woe, gaudy gashion and political unrest.
A good deal of the credit has to go to editor Niven Howie, who
creates some really impressive cinematic collages that catch
the frenzied spirit of the late seventies in Britain (even if
most American viewers won’t recognize figures such as Harold
Wilson and Edward Heath, who pass by in the blur). Temple also
uses found footage well to suggest that the Pistols’ raucous,
offensive style had roots in the British music-hall tradition
and the grosser side of English TV vaudeville. And the excerpts
from the Pistols’ concerts, contemporary television appearances
and offstage antics still retain the power simultaneously to
shock, amuse and appall. One can also be taken by the periodic
appearances of Laurence Olivier as the smirking villain of his
filmization of “Richard III” as witty commentary on the fashion
in which the Pistols played on their bad-boy images during their
brief time in the sun (the credit sequence is patterned after
that of Oliver’s film, too); they also amusingly reinforce
the Shakespearean tone of the title.

It must be added, however, that anybody who’s seen Temple’s
earlier film on the group and/or read John (Johnny Rotten)
Lydon’s 1994 autobiography won’t find a great deal here that’s
terribly surprising or revelatory. The new interviews with
band members–all of them, except for Rotten, curiously filmed
with their faces obscured in shadow, to no apparent point–
pretty much reiterate their old diatribes against McLaren, who’s
heard speaking through a rubber bondage mask of the sort he
used to sell in a London boutique. The visual flourishes
involved in such proceedings are intriguing, but there doesn’t
seem much purpose behind them except to energize the recycled
material.

On the other hand, it’s certainly useful to have a few bits
from a late-in-life interview by Sid Vicious, the band member
who was accused of murdering his girlfriend and later died of
a drug overdose (and who was, it appears, quite instrumental in
insuring the group’s demise, too), even if his remarks aren’t
entirely coherent and their presence won’t displace the primacy
still rightfully held by Alex Cox’s “Sid and Nancy” (1986) on
the subject, whatever the dramatic licenses taken in that
renegade biopic.

“The Filth and the Fury” doesn’t exactly fill an enormous gap
in material on The Sex Pistols, therefore, and viewers familiar
with their story will find a good deal that’s repetitious and
redundant here. Nevertheless the group’s music, sizable
chunks of which are included, still has surprising power and
resonance in spite of (or perhaps because of) their rather
serious technical limitations, and Temple and Howie’s swift,
virtuoso editing keeps the eye and ear engaged even when
they’re not being offered anything terribly new. If you’re
unacquainted with the subject, moreover, you should find that
the piece stands on its own quite nicely and provides some
fascinating cultural history to boot.

MY DOG SKIP

Relentlessly nice, this coming-of-age tale of a boy and his dog
in Yazoo, Mississippi, during the early 1940s embraces just
about every cliche of the genre that one might imagine. Based
on the memoir by the late Willie Morris, it’s about an
undersized eight-year old (played by the precocious Frankie
Muniz of “Malcolm in the Middle”) whose acquisition of a
remarkably personable pooch (a Jack Russell terrier played for
the most part by Enzo, an offspring of Moose, who was Eddie
on “Frasier”) teaches him all about Life, Love, and Loss. Soon
little Willie develops a closer bond with his stern father
(Kevin Bacon), who’d lost his leg in the Spanish Civil War;
becomes pals with the neighborhood youngsters who’d earlier
bullied him endlessly; and even gets close to the cutest girl
in the school, sweet little Rivers (Caitlin Wachs). He also
deals with the apparent cowardice while serving in the military
of his idol, next-door neighbor Dink (Luke Wilson), and is
even introduced, ever so slightly, to the realities of racism
in his town.

As you can tell, the script offers ample opportunities for
scenes of juvenile high-jinks, puppy love of every possible
permutation and family bonding, in addition to frequent
moments of heartbreak and uplift as well as lessons about
accepting people different from oneself–all of which, when
accentuated by William Ross’ soupy score, ladled over climactic
moments like warm Maple syrup, should make for an almost
insufferable experience.

The fact that “My Dog Skip” isn’t intolerable, despite its
being, in the final analysis, a shameless tearjerker, is the
result of the considerable charm afforded by its cast, both
human and canine. Muniz, though far from the peculiar family
he’s part of on TV, remains a pleasantly impish kid, likable
without being overbearing about it. Bacon, who’s really
grown as a actor of late (see “Wild Things” and “Stir of
Echoes”) does a solid turn as his dad, and although she has
less to do, Diane Lane is fine as his mom as well. Wilson,
who’s often seemed ill-at-ease onscreen, does a nice, laid-
back turn as the troubled neighbor. And apart from Clint
Howard and Peter Crombie, who chew up the scenery pretty badly
as two moonshiners who threaten Willie and Skip at a couple
of moments, the supporting cast is colorful without becoming
obnoxious. Moreover, it’s hard to resist Enzo, a pooch who
exudes animal magnetism.

It’s inevitable that “My Dog Skip” has some sequences that put
young Willie, and even more importantly Skip, in jeopardy; and
the ending is calculated to draw tears from even the hardest
of hearts. For these reasons some very young children might
find a few moments emotionally trying, just as they could be
temporarily disturbed by “Bambi” or other older Disney flicks.
But overall, unlike such recent misfires as “A Dog of Flanders,”
this is a cannily-crafted, uncommonly satisfying piece of
family fare, and despite its almost absurdly manipulative
quality it should win over all but the most Scroogelike
moviegoer.