“The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle” (1980) dir. Julien Temple

“The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle” is an extremely controversial documentary about the Sex Pistols that features manager Malcolm McLaren as the lead character instead of the band. McLaren rewrites the Pistols’ history as being an elaborate hoax/scam/con job on the record industry and his running away with millions of dollars of corporate cash.

On one level, this is a very funny and engaging film. And the Sex Pistols footage is totally amazing to watch. However, as we’ve learned in subsequent years from numerous books and interviews with the surviving band members (and in Temple’s updated documentary from 2000 “The Filth and the Fury”), McLaren was not the master Machiavelli and lovable rogue he painted himself to be. Instead, McLaren was a largely incompetent, greedy, and (arguably) evil man who callously disregarded and exploited the pain and misery of those around him to get as much money as he possibly could that should have been rightfully been given to others. I still find the film entertaining, even with a huge asterix in my mind that what I’m watching is complete bollocks, to coin a phrase.

The Japanese subtitles on this trailer are appropriate, because the only way you could watch “The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle” in America until around 1992 or so was on imported Japanese videocassettes. That’s how I first saw this film (around 1986) and was in constant rotation in my VCR for the next six years. It also features a lot of footage that never made the final film.

What’s really fascinating is that the Sex Pistols film was originally supposed to be a film called “Who Killed Bambi?” directed by American sexploitation master Russ Meyer and scripted by Roger Ebert. Ebert posted the entire script he wrote on his blog as well as his version of how his and Meyer’s involvement with the Pistols came about. A totally fascinating read.


2 thoughts on ““The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle” (1980) dir. Julien Temple

  1. Of course “Swindle” is bollocks but never mind, it’s a fun movie with, as you say, great footage of the Pistols. I’m not sure that Malcolm was any more “evil” than other scam artist/managers in rock & roll. I think it all got a little too big for the shopkeeper. Both “The Filth & the Fury” & Jon Savage’s “England’s Dreaming” make much of the “outrage” caused by Punk. I have never thought that the moral panic caused by any youth cult is anything else but amusing. You challenge their values & they get pissed…to measure your impact by this obvious reaction seems to miss the point.

    We did meet Tenpole (Tadpole) Tudor at a party & thought it was the most hilarious thing to follow him around yelling “Who Killed Bambi ?” !

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