The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle
Facts and Figures
Run time: 103 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 12th March 1981
Production compaines: Boyd's Company, Kendon Films Ltd., Matrixbest, Virgin Films
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle Review
Ah, but McLaren is lying through his teeth when he tells us that. In The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle the line between documentary and fiction, truth and lie, becomes so blurred that it becomes unnecessary.
The "plot" consists of McLaren tooting his horn, the Sex Pistols performing, music videos flashing, bizarre animation segments gnashing, midgets thrashing, and Ronnie Biggs (the infamous British train robber who pulled off the Great Train Robbery in 1963) talking. It's a delirious hodge-podge that makes The Filth and the Fury, Temple's later "documentary" about the band, look perfectly staid. It ends with Sid Vicious in Paris singing Sinatra's "My Way" and then shooting the audience.
The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle attempts to translate punk to film, it's trying to fit a movement into a bottle. And in many ways it succeeds admirably, mostly because it fails. That sounds like a load of Post-Modernism 101 bullshit, but it's true. Punk was the antithesis of "punk." According to the unwritten (naturally) laws of punk, punk became popular only when it died. It was, simply, born to fail. Ah, but there's a cunning, almost diabolical, joke here. When punk broke, people like McLaren made money. They achieved a very un-punk status and they enjoyed every minute of it. You see, according to McLaren and punk, anyone who buys into the "show" is a sucker. The genius behind the marketing is foolproof: The kid in leather with a mohawk who eats ground glass is a sucker. The true punk is the guy who made mohawks and glass eating cool and walked away with a ton of filthy lucre.
As a film, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle is scanty. Like McLaren it's full of cheap shots and low blows. The actual swindle here isn't of the record companies. Much, I'm sure, to McLaren's chagrin. (Though there is a rumor that most of the money spent by McLaren on The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle was in fact swindled by McLaren from the band!) No, Rock and Roll (yes, with caps) was swindled. It was taken for everything it had. The real stars of The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle remain the Sex Pistols; despite McLaren's contention that they were hacks, just a few minutes of seeing Sid Vicious snarling on stage is enough to convince anyone that the only person McLaren was fooling was himself.
Note: I just love some of the trivia surrounding this picture. How "punk" is this: Originally the film was to have been directed by Russ Meyer and scripted by Roger Ebert!
Aka Sex Pistols - The Great Rock and Roll Swindle.