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Nearly 20 years after The Great Rock ‘n Roll Swindle, Julien Temple returned to look at his former employers, The Sex Pistols, in The Filth and The Fury. The film screened at the 2000 Berlin International Film Festival, where he explained to DAVID EDWARDS why the band members' faces are always obscured: so we remember them as they were, not as wrinkly old rock stars in armchairs.

What made you want to make another Sex Pistols movie after all these years?
I wasn’t really sure about making the film initially. But then I went into the vaults at the BBC and found the old film stocks (from the Great Rock ‘n Roll Swindle). Amongst all these neatly arranged rows of cans, it was sitting on the floor in these rusting cans with bits of film sticking out of them. I was, like, even now, the film had this kind of energy that meant it couldn’t be kept on the shelf.

How laborious was the process of making the film?
Having found the stock, we had about 20 hours of footage. I cut that down to about 5 hours then showed it to the band members; and after they’d watched the footage, I went back to talk to them. Then after we’d done the interviews, we had to cut the footage in and edit the film. I actually found the process of making the film exciting, you know. It’s a different thing to feature filmmaking. To be able to find all this footage and put it together was exciting. I’d say to my editor "What can we do with this bit. This looks great but where can we fit it in?"

In the film, all the interviews are done with the faceS obscured. Why was that?
Well, basically, it’s because I don’t like wrinkly old rock stars sitting in armchairs! (laughs) But in another sense, I wanted the footage to speak for itself – to in a sense capture them as The Sex Pistols at that time. And because it all came to an end as it did, they’re in a sense preserved in that time. It’s like John [Rotten] says in the film "The Sex Pistols broke up at just the right time for all the wrong reasons."

In the interviews, the band members present sometimes very different versions of the events. Did this present any particular problems for you?
No, not really. I mean, what makes a band great is the conflict, the dynamic between these different personalities – look at The Rolling Stones. But I guess there is this kind of Rashomon element in the film because of the different versions.

Sid Vicious is treated very kindly by the film. Was that a conscious choice on your part or did it simply evolve in that way?
Well, I always found Sid to be a very lovable character. I never believed he killed Nancy. Even at the worst of the drugs, he couldn’t have done that. I’m sure it was a suicide pact between them. In the end, the film has a very anti-drug message. You’ve got Sid basically saying "Just say no; because this is a nightmare I’m living."

You use a number of allusions to Richard III. Do you think the story of the Pistols is a kind of Shakespearean tragedy?
Well, I wanted to say there were elements of tragedy in a classic way. They did take the world by storm, and then it all ended in tears. Also, Richard III was someone Rotten always related to. You know he [Rotten] had a hunchback because of meningitis and he identified himself as a kind of Richard III type of character. And, you know, when the Sex Pistols were around, they had to metaphorically cut off Rod Stewart’s head, and cut off Emerson Lake & Palmer’s head to get the crown. And then when they had taken over the world, they had it all fall apart around them. So, yeah, I think the story of the Sex Pistols has a lot of similarities to Richard III.

Was the film made for cinema or TV?
Oh, cinema. Although Channel 4 in England were involved in it, it was always meant as a cinema film. I’m a filmmaker; I hate doing TV.

The point is made in the film that the punk movement, which started out as an expression of individuality, ended up being almost the opposite.
Yeah, well, I try to make the point that the Sex Pistols weren’t punks. I mean, they dressed differently and their music was very different from your archetypal punk bands. At the end, I guess, Sid started to get into that whole thing, the leather and what have you; but the Pistols were not a typical punk band. They were individuals, and they reveled in that.

Were you a punk?
I was. I was a certain type of punk though. I was a "middle class c**t"; which I hope the film makes clear is a term of endearment.

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Julien Temple


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