Punk scared people like few things in popular culture. And punk ate that fear up in the mid-70s. This was a teen revolution that didn’t care about giving a happy side. The music, fashion and attitude was fast, abrasive, minimal and a touch violent. The was a touch of nihilism without a care about the future. Why not put a safety pin through your nose? Wear ripped up clothes? Change your name to a vulgarity? The music was cranked up to down out the super soft rock hits clogging up the radio dial. At the center of this revolution stood the Sex Pistols and their anarchy loving manager Malcolm McLaren. Their singles “Anarchy in the U.K.” and “God Save the Queen” were hits even though they weren’t BBC radio friendly. Their shows were so feared that they couldn’t find venues in England and Europe. After two years of attention in various rock magazines, the Sex Pistols were finally going to tour America at the start of 1978. Instead of playing major cities where punk had taken hold thank to the Ramones, Patti Smith and the Talking Heads, the Pistols headed into the South to play country western bars. D.O.A. A Right of Passage captures this bizarre and combative 9 day tour and more.
If you’re expecting a glossy concert film covering the entire set list of the band, forget it. This isn’t a Rolling Stone tour souvenir. The major thing to remember about the film is that Lech Kowalski and his documentary film crew didn’t have permission to film the Sex Pistols on stage. They would sneak cameras into the venues and film away. This adds to the flavor of the film since they are in the crowd filled with supportive new punkers and hostile rednecks eager for a fight. There are little moments that hint that Warner Brothers have hired goons to prevent their new band from being captured on film. D.O.A. captures quite a few amazing performances of Johnny Rotten facing off with the audiences. He feeds off the threat of violence building up in the room. Bassist Sid Vicious lives up to his name. He cuts words in his chest and gets into a fight with locals on stage. There’s footage of their final concert in San Francisco when the band broke up during the after party. There’s somewhat a post-mortem when the camera finds Sid and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen drugged up and nearly setting the bed on fire with lost cigarette butts in the sheets. Both would be dead before the film came out.
The movie is more than the Sex Pistols. Part of the film goes to England to explore the situation there and other bands that are coming up. Ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock shows off his new band The Rich Kids. There’s a song from a young Billy Idol when he was part of Generation X. The excitement of Sham 69 on stage and dealing with a rowdy crowd is tension filled. My favorite is getting to see X-Ray Spex tear apart “Oh Bondage Up Yours” with an energetic Poly Styrene bouncing off the ceiling. There’s a touch of America with The Dead Boys. The strangest element is the camera following around Terry Sylvester, a punk kid living in England and dealing with the hassles of the time. He gets to perform with his band Terry and the Idiots. If you don’t know his name or band, it’s fine. They’re horrible. But they belong in the movie since they kinda show that just because you learned three chords and could climb up on stage didn’t mean you were going to be the next Clash. There was a bit of talent behind bands that were scoffed off as incompetent musicians.
D.O.A. A Rite of Passage is a rough punk documentary that gets deep into its subject matter without being too reflective. It captures the scary elements of the scene. Sure when the Beatles invaded America, uptight people had their delicate sensibilities upset. We can look back at that footage and laugh off their fears of four guys with hair below their earlobes. But watching the Sex Pistols 30 years ago, there’s still a bit of fright that makes your question getting too close to the stage or even near Randy’s Rodeo. The danger of Sid Vicious in concert remains. The Sex Pistols remain scary.
The video is 1.33:1 pillarboxed to 1.78.1 anamorphic. The transfer of the film is better than I’ve ever seen it. The concert footage is fine for something shot undercover. The audio is mono. The levels are fine for the concert action.
Dead on Arrival: The Punk Documentary That Almost Never Was (115 minutes) gets truly into the insanity of the movie. Turns out Tom Forcade, the owner of “High Times” magazine wanted to document the Sex Pistols tour and didn’t care about permission. He hired a crew and flew them around to the various cities. But things got weird when the magazine decided they weren’t paying for this. Things got weirder when he sent the crew to England to fill out the film. There’s discussion about the infamous Sid and Nancy drugged up interview. There’s vintage interviews with Johnny Rotten and Billy Idol. Finally there’s a discussion about the rather bumpy releases the film has had over the decades since it was first released in 1980. This really rounds out the original film.
Image Gallery (3:54) are concert shots from the Sex Pistols in the US.
Trailer (3:48) is from the original release.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes Trailer (2:11) is the next cult film in the MVD Rewind Collection.
MVD Rewind Collection presents D.O.A. A Right of Passage. Directed by: Lech Kowalski. Written by: Lech Kowalski, Chris Salewicz. Starring: Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious, Billy Idol and Stiv Bators. Running time: 93 minutes. Rated: R. Blu-ray Release: December 15, 2017.
Tags: D.O.A. A Right of Passage, Sex Pistols