“The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years” (1988) dir. Penelope Spheeris


“The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years” is Penelope Spheeris’s follow-up to her groundbreaking documentary on hardcore punk from 1980 (“The Decline of Western Civilization”). “Decline II” chronicles heavy metal, circa 1988 in Los Angeles, predominately glam metal, which was the rage at the time.

“Decline II” is often cited for being extremely funny because many of the participants seem absolutely delusional about their prospects at future success in music … and in life. There are interviews with stars (Ozzy Osbourne, Steve Tyler, Joe Perry, Poison, Dave Mustaine, Lemmy, Alice Cooper, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Chris Holmes) and interviews with up and comers, most of which you’ve never seen nor heard from since this film came out.

However, the most compelling part of the film is arguably the interview with Chris Holmes of W.A.S.P. Lying in a pool chair, literally pouring vodka down his throat, explaining he’s a piece of s–t, while is mother is sitting next to him, trying to put on a good face, but looking like she wants to cry. One of the saddest and most disturbing scenes from a documentary ever.

Despite this, the humor outweighs the pathos.  One of the best scenes in the film comes near the end where legendary club owner Bill Gazzarri hosts his annual “Miss Gazzarri Dancer” contest and Gazzarri tries to get everyone excited about a band called Odin, which he claims are going to be the next big thing.  Needless to say, they fell far short of this goal.  I’ll let you be the judge as to whether the public was ignorant in their mass rejection of Odin through this clip:

Spheeris later hit the box-office jackpot as the director of “Wayne’s World” in 1992, a job she got in no small part due to her success with “Decline II.”

“Suburbia” (1983) dir. Penelope Spheeris

Before director Penelope Spheeris entered the Hollywood mainstream with “Wayne’s World” and “The Beverly Hillbillies,”  she directed the seminal punk and metal documentaries “The Decline of Western Civilization Parts 1 and 2”  and also directed “Suburbia,” a punk melodrama for legendary exploitation producer Roger Corman in 1983.  Corman has always had a knack for recognizing filmmaking talent and gave Spheeris a lot of leeway in making “Suburbia” as long as she delivered plenty of action, violence, and nudity (including a church riot homage to Corman’s biker classic from the 1960s, “The Wild Angels”).

“Suburbia” delivers plenty of action, violence and nudity, but with a couple of exceptions, most of the people appearing in the film were actual punks she ran into and cast in the film (including a pre-Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea, billed as Mike B. the Flea in the credits, in a pivotal supporting role).  This isn’t the slickest film in the world by any means, but while the kids engage in a lot of anti-social behavior, the film is obviously and overwhelmingly on their side, sympathizes tremendously with their troubled backgrounds, and is easily one of the best and heartfelt punk films ever made.

One of the best moviegoing memories from my youth was seeing “Suburbia’ in a packed midnight screening (with an audience full of mohawks and trenchcoats) with a good friend of mine and my friend’s Dad, who attended the screening with us since me and my friend were not legally able to drive.  The audience went completely nuts at the beginning of the film, when the wild dog attacks a toddler (one of the worst mannequin substitutes I’ve ever seen in any idiom), which isn’t funny, but kind of is in the context of the film and the audience.  My friend’s Dad (who, at the time, was roughly about my age now) took the film in stride, enjoyed himself, and later compared the film to “Rebel Without a Cause” on the ride home, which he highly recommended to us.  While I later saw “Rebel” and thought it a much superior film, I have a really soft spot in my heart for “Suburbia.”   It’s too bad Spheeris hasn’t made too many films recently.  A vastly underrated filmmaking talent.