The Decline of Western Civilization came out in 1981 — the first wave of punk bands in the UK hadn’t all fallen apart yet, the East Coast vanguard of
The Decline of Western Civilization came out in 1981 — the first wave of punk bands in the UK hadn’t all fallen apart yet, the East Coast vanguard of the second wave was pretty solid, and the West Coast scene was beginning to rise up. The first part of a trilogy (part 2 follows the metal scene, part 3 is about the gutter-punk lifestyle), Decline is a raw and open look at the burgeoning LA scene, with live performance footage and interviews with Black Flag, the Germs, X, the Circle Jerks and Fear (among others). Given the title, it’s ironic that this movie documents what may have been the cultural high point for punk music. Of course once you’re at the pinnacle, no matter which direction you walk, you’re only headed down.
On its release in 1981, the Chief of Police for the LAPD (the infamous Daryl Gates) wrote a letter demanding that it never again be screened in Los Angeles. Director Penelope Spheeris would go on to make Wayne’s World. In 2016, the Library of Congress selected this movie for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, as it was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the life-cycle of the punk sodality and capitalism’s commercialist appropriation of its own criticism, well … did you ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? Come share The Decline with REWIND.
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