The Decline of Western Civilization/Review

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Review of The Decline of Western Civilization

For about a year, I've been listening to Hardcore Punk music because not only do I get sick of modern music in general, I also want to relieve my anger and depression towards things. Sure, I still listen to stuff like Hall & Oates, R.E.M. or Phil Collins, but whenever I want my heart pumping, Hardcore Punk is the only way. There are many bands in this genre that I really like: The Misfits, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, Flipper, Dead Kennedys, Bad Religion, etc. For those that want to find out more about the movement at its height of popularity, look no further than "The Decline of Western Civilization".

TDWC is one of my all-time favorite documentaries. Basically because it features my favorite bands like Fear, Circle Jerks, Black Flag, and X and shows us the WHOLE movement in general. It consists of live performance footage, interviews with the bands and with people who were involved with the scene: from teenage audiences to local promoters. We learn about the difference between generic Rock music (or most Classic Rock) and Hardcore Punk. The details about a Punk fanzine called Slash, the tattoos, the differences between pogoing and violence at the concerts.

The editing and filming is really unique, especially in interview segments. They interview punk teenagers (about violence among audience members) in a room with a light bulb above their head, which is the same technique they also use in TDWC: Part 2 (we'll talk about it later) or. When they interview Brendan Mallen, a club owner, they use an LA highway and the whole city as a background. This makes the film looks more interesting and memorable due to visual elements and quick-cut editing. Also, during bands' performances, they show the lyrics on the screen in a karaoke style to clue us into the pissed-off attitude of each band.

And since it loosely has a plot, I have to pick some great highlights to tell you about.

There's an interesting interview with Black Flag (with Ron Reyes as the lead singer, which is their 2nd lineup at the time). They live in a place called "The Church", which was a literally an old Catholic church. They also talk about their poor financial situation due to a money split between promoters and the band. But the funniest part is when Robo, the drummer of the band, tells us a story about hippies that lives around that place. He says that those people are smoking pot all the time even when they are angry. I think it's kinda funny since the filming takes place in 1980. With the advent of Disco and Punk, I thought hippies didn't exist anymore in early 80's! It's kinda interesting to learn that the famous subculture from late 60's could live in the world that gets more and more chaotic. Not to mention the fact that Johnny Rotten famously said "Kill the hippies" and Dead Kennedys wrote "California Uber Alles" to mock not only a Governor of California, but also hippie culture in general.

Next, we have the band X who talk about their tattoos and other topics. Then, Exene, the female vocalist of the band, shows her weird collection of right-wing and Christian leaflets. According to her, "They say the most insane things. And you cannot believe society's got into this stage.". She shows her one of leaflets that says "The activities of homosexuals and lesbians, a detailed expose of the activities of these depraved humans would be so revolting that it might 'cause a sane person to vomit. If you wish the sordid details, consult sexual pathology or sexual pathology or the dictionary book for some information. Shalom, Israel, the everlasting nation.", Wow, it's been 35 years since it was filmed, yet over-the-top statements like this still exists in one way or another.

And finally, the best moment in the film. It's the live performance of Fear. Why do I like them so much? This band is totally different from stereotypical Punk bands you've heard of. Instead of talking about youth anxiety or how bad capitalism is, they banter audiences like this:

"So how come they let all your long hairs in here tonight? What's the problem? This is 1980. Can't you afford a fucking haircut?"

"I want all you assholes that are standing back there sucking that overpriced shit come up here, closer."

"Let's see a little motion up there. This ain't no fucking country club."

"Hey! Next time, don't bite so hard when I cum. Okay? Fuck you. You only spit as good as you suck, shithead!"

Wow. That's so goofy and hilarious, yet they always provoke violence thanks to Punk rockers who take themselves too seriously. Anyway, here comes the famous banter from Lee Ving, the lead singer.

"How many queers are here tonight? How many homosexuals? I can see that there's a bunch of fags out there. None of yous are raising your hand."

Unless it's Mike Huckabee or Pat Robertson's punk band, there's no way you can take this kind of quote too seriously. But then, there's a female audience who somehow pisses off at Lee and this quote, so she and her friends jumps on a stage and tries to fight Lee, but he and TONS of roadies push and kick them out of stage! After the chaos, Lee speaks to the audience in a really sarcastic voice...

"Everybody mellow out, man. It's great to be gay. We really like homos."

But that's just the beginning! Next, they sing songs about don't giving a damn about anything in their life (including a man that dies in front of narrator), his girlfriend who likes sucking his dick, having the next world war so everyone can go die and stocks market can go up. In the end, they end the show by singing bands' anthem...

"Oh, the land of the free...and the homos, too."

By the way, I forgot to tell you that they are well-known for their offbeat humor as well. Here are two jokes from them...

"Do you know why chicks have their little holes so close together? So you can carry them like a six-pack of beer."

"Do you know how many punks it takes to screw in a light bulb? 20! One to hold the ladder, one to screw it in, and 18 on the guest list."

With weird antics like these, I guess that's why I really like their first album ("The Record") and their live album ("Live...For The Record").

To sum up, this documentary is a collection of great examples of what make Hardcore Punk in early 80's popular and memorable. Luckily, you can find it as a Blu-Ray copy now. Although the color is faded, the scratches are visible and you can hear the scratch on the soundtrack due to the damage of the film (I've heard that the original negative was destroyed, so they use a copy from the director herself), it looks clearer and better than the Laserdisc/VHS rip that available on the internet for a while. Recommended.

Reviewed by Nuttawut Permphithak - 12/28/15

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