DVD Review: The Decline of Western Civilization - Complete Collection (1981, 1988, 1998)

Posted by Retrokaiser On Thursday, January 28, 2016 0 comments

The Decline of Western Civilization Collection is a collection containing all three parts of the music documentary film series, The Decline of Western Civilization. These films document the punk rock scene of the late-1970's and mid-1990's, it also covers the heavy metal and glam rock scene of the late-1980's. These films aren't your typical music documentaries, they don't just solely focus on the music itself, they also share focus on the fandom and takes a look at the music scene from all sides of the story. Will it be as expansive as it sounds? Or will it be a series that has poorly declined in quality over the years? (Click on "Read More" to read the full review).

The premise of the films are incredibly simple, all they are of are interviews and footage of musical performances, that's it.  This simple premise isn't a bad thing though as this isn't a film that's all about action or multiple things going on, this is a film where you watch music performances and people talking about the music scene, themselves, and the state of the world.  The simplicity of this series is one of the things that make these movies great as it is very easy to follow and very easy to enjoy.

Part One covers the very late part of the golden age of punk and it is very interesting to see what the punk scene was like from back then.  It is really interesting to see what the clubs were like and it is even more interesting to hear from the bands and fans.  The views and expressions found in this movie are  really good and the interviews are quite deep and fulfilling to where it just draws you in and makes you keep your eyes on the screen and absorb what they all have to say.  While the interviews are from awhile ago, they still hold up today and are very relevant and you can also find a way to relate to all that is said despite this film being from 30+ years ago.

There's quite a lot of music to be found in Part One, featuring bands such as: X, Catholic Discipline, Germs, Circle Jerks, and Black Flag.  I was expecting all the music to be fast, hard, and loud but there's more of a varied sound with some bands being hard to the core, while some bands took a more poetic approach to punk.  Most of the performances are really top-notch and you'll really get into the groove and turn your lounge room into a mosh pit.  There were some performances that were a bit on the okay side due to having some songs that weren't as interesting and then you've got one really terrible performance to which I'll get to in the next paragraph.

The worst performance in this film has to go to a band called The Germs, Darby Crash (the lead "singer") was horrendously drunk to the point of him stumbling around and mumbling his words to the point where there were subtitles on the screen translating all of the lyrics of the songs.  Watching all of this was just plain sad to the point of being concerned, the crowd also didn't look like they were enjoying it also, they actually looked quite pissed.  All of this observation is just going on from what I saw in the film, they could've been really enjoying it but it didn't look like it...  Heck, I could've done a better vocal job.  While the singer was terrible, the band played some really decent music, so it wasn't all bad.  The interview segments with The Germs were the exact opposite of bad and were very interesting, entertaining and gave a better impression of what the band is like and was worth listening to.

It is very tough to go picking one song for best performance from this movie as X, FEAR, and Black Flag all had some really good stuff but my pick is going to have to go to The Circle Jerks.  The Circle Jerks' performance was really fast, really loud, really entertaining, and they impressed me the most despite their songs being really short, on the brightside you do get to see about five songs (give or take) from them in a row.  While the other bands I mentioned were tied for second, it's not like that they are in second place by a mile,  they all came really close to stealing the show and are all worth checking out and grooving out to as they were all very good.

The second film takes a turn away from the dark, dank days of punk rock and jumps into the dirty, colorful, sex filled days of the glam rock/hard rock/heavy metal scene of the 1980's.  This film looks a bit more brighter and cleaner than part one but don't let that bother you, everything you loved about part one will be found in this part despite looking like it was made on a higher budget, it also has the same underground feeling to it.  The thing that is different styling wise is that they focus a little less on the music and a little more on interviewing the musicians.

Some of the bands featured in this movie includes: Megadeth, Aerosmith, Kiss, Wasp, Poison, Lizzy Borden, just to name a few as there are a good chunk of band appearances in this film.  You will also see interviews with the fans just like what they did with the first film.  The interviews are incredibly entertaining  and interesting although they can get a bit on the sleazy side and make some people feel uncomfortable due to the rowdy nature of some of the bands.  Despite all that, the interviews found in this film are incredibly strong but not as strong as the ones in Part One but you won't be bothered about that.  The interviews with the fans aren't that much different from interviews of the punk rock fans due to punk and metal being really good hard and fast music AKA they both nearly sound the same but in a good way.  The fan interviews in this film are above average and they are somewhat interesting but you'll lose interest in them after awhile.

A thing this film does differently is that this film goes a bit beyond the music and musicians as this movie also focuses on what parents and schools have to say about this genre of music.  Those parts were very interesting due to the ignorance of the people that were being interviewed and you'll find it a bit funny and sad.  This film also focuses on a gentleman's club owned by a guy named Bill Gazzarri and band that they he is trying to push (I'll get to that later) and a beauty pageant that he is hosting.  The beauty pageant is less of a beauty pageant and more of a buffet of blond haired women doing sexy dances to win the attention of the audience, so it's a strip club without the stripping.  This segment could've worked but it fell really flat and just ended up being boring filler content that near puts me to sleep every time.

Part Two also is a bit of a notorious one as it has a habit of trying to make people look worse off than what they really are, especially the scenes with Ozzy Osbourne and Chris Holmes (of W.A.S.P.).  (Spoiler warning) The scene with Ozzy had him making breakfast and when he got to pouring his glass of orange juice it then cuts to a close up scene of some person pouring orange juice, missing the glass completely, all while trying to make it look like that Ozzy is doing it (end of spoilers).  This little edit was very immature and juvenile to where it comes off as being sad but it is also funny at the same time and I can't help but to giggle and be annoyed at the same time.

The music in this film has a lot of really solid performances with the biggest highlight being Megadeth performing In My Darkest Hour, the performance is very bone chillingly good and it gives you goosebumps.  This film doesn't have any bad performances but it does have a few lukewarm ones that you won't have any feelings towards.  The lukewarmness is a shame as there are a lot of good bands in this and is not the best introduction for people looking to get into some of those bands, especially Lizzy Borden as while they are an excellent band, their performance makes them look like an average band.  The worst performance in this film has to go to Odin, they are the band that Gazzarri was trying to push really hard.  I'm not saying that Odin's performance was bad in any sense, it was just very generic to where they don't leave any sort of impression on you what so ever.  Overall, the second film is the film with the most problems but that doesn't mean that it wasn't a good documentary.  This film is an incredible documentary and is just as important as the other films in this series and is worth watching just as much as the other films (sorta gave myself away on what I have to say about the third film right there).

The third film focuses even less on musical performances and bands and puts more of a focus on a group os gutterpunks that have a very hard life with a good chunk of them dealing with being homeless.  You'd expect this sudden change to be very jarring but it is far from it and the topic is incredibly interesting and feels right at home being part of this series.  The interviews in this one are a lot darker in tone than any of the previous films, dealing with topics such as homelessness, drugs, alcoholism, death and suffering and you really get into what they have to say.  With the topics of drugs and booze, this really gives you the whole sex, drugs, rock 'n roll experience for this series with the sex part being filled in (haa haa, filled in) with Part Two, while the rock 'n roll part is filled from Part One.

The feelings you'll have towards the people are just the same as the prior two films as you'd either hate them or like them but despite that you'll be so drawn in that you won't even care about that, their messages are strong and are worth hearing.  I'm not going to lie, I did feel like punching some of the people right in the face, really hard too but that never stopped me from listening to what they had to say nor did it make me feel like their stories weren't interesting.  I'm also not a fan of the mid-90's punk scene as well as I find that era to be full of fu*kwits and posers but that still didn't stop this movie from being good, the messages are that damn powerful.

The music in this film features music from bands such as Final Conflict, Litmus Green, Naked Aggression, and The Resistance.  The performances also have more of a darker approach due to their topics but they are also some of the best musical performances found in this entire film series and it is just a shame that this film didn't have as much of them compared to the prior films, that's my biggest problem with the film.  Another neat thing about the third film is that this is the first ever official release of this film due to reasons that you can find out why by watching the special features, I'm very glad to not only see this film released officially, I'm just glad to have a box set with all three films in general.

The filming of all three movies all share the same style and it is a really good style to where the filming is right on point and help enhances the film, plus it builds up a really serious atmosphere despite how unserious some of the people answer their questions.  I also really enjoy how consistent the films are, so no matter if the film is set in the 70's, 80's or the 90's, you'll won't feel off by the sudden change of decade.  In a sense, these movies also show off how the times haven't changed much at all as they all have identical problems with the world and that just shows how sad and dark the world is (preacher alert) and that puts the world in an embarrassing place.  The thing this movie does make me want to do is buy the soundtracks as the music is very, very strong in this movie and I do hope we see a box set of all the soundtracks next.

The thing that upset me about this series is that we didn't get a fourth film that covered the 2000's (because the term, "noughties" can go f**k itself), especially since 2005 - 2008 had some great heavy metal, it would've been a great time to make a second part to the second part of the series.  Oh well, there's always a hope that a fourth part covering punk rock from this decade will pop up.  While the 2010's is not my favorite time for punk, it'd still make for an interesting documentary. I just get so excited seeing where this series could go next, please don't let it end and add one more epic part to this series.

The special features selection in this set is quite big as each film comes with their own unique bunch of special features. The first film comes with not one, but two audio commentary tracks, one with Penelope Spheeris (the director) and Anna Fox (special features producer). The second audio commentary track is done by the musician Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Them Crooked Vultures). You also get never before released footage such as X signing a record contract with Slash Records and a a video tour of a club called The Masque, never before seen performances AKA bonus tracks, Henery Rollins (Black Flag) interviewing Penelope Spheeris, Raw versions of the announcement scenes from the start of the film, the theatrical trailer, lastly, a bunch of extended versions of the interviews that were in the films.

The first audio commentary track was really good, there was a lot of information and even more entertaining insight that made this a blast to listen to. The Dave Grohl commentary track was fairly average as most of the comments weren't very interesting and there were very long moments where there was nothing going on. This commentary track did have some golden highlights though, other than that, very average, even for a fan-commentary.

The contract signing clip was okay, it had some interesting stuff but you could also tell why it didn't make the film, it was still good to see though. The video tour of the Masque Club was a very interesting watch as the tour was very detailed. The atmosphere felt like something out of a horror movie because of how messed-up the building looked and it was covered in graffiti, had body lines on the floor, and holes smashed in the wall, this isn't a horror movie though, it's a real place (well, it was a real place). Brendan Mullen, the host of this clip also threw in some nice trivia and it did give a sense of what it was like being at the club back in the day and it gives the club some well deserved historic value.

The unseen performances AKA bonus tracks is a very nice feature as the one thing I wanted to see more of from this series was performances. The bands that appear in this section are: FEAR, The Germs, and The Gears. Half of the performances were really great and was a shame that they got cut, especially the Germs stuff as it was legitimately good compared to the very sad performances that made the film. The Germs bonus tracks also have this funny moment where the microphone breaks and Darby (vocalist for The Germs) is still singing despite what is going on. The other half of the bonus performances were good but not great and I can see why they didn't make the film but they weren't terrible. If the soundtrack ever got re-released, the bonus tracks would make for a good addition.

The interview done by Henry Rollins was very fun and entertaining to watch but there isn't much going on due to it being a short interview but what you do get is quite good. The raw versions of the announcement scenes (scenes that played at the start of the film) is another interesting watch and it was very nice to see them in full. The downside to the raw announcement scenes is that they are very grainy but that's also an upside as it adds a certain charm to them, like I have found a rare treasure buried in the ground, like how Bart and Lisa found the deleted ending to Casablanca (1942).

I liked the trailer for this film as it really exaggerates what the film is out and makes it out to be a nature documentary about party animals in their natural habitat. The extended interviews were very fun to watch and was nice to hear their stories in an uninterrupted format. Some of the footage in the extended interviews was so good that I wondered why those clips weren't used in the film. The extended interviews are also very grainy and the only clean footage you see is of that footage that made the film, so there'll be moments where the footage is clean but also in a different screen size and that inconsistency did bother me a little bit.

Disc number two (The Metal Years) includes: An audio commentary track featuring Penelope Spheeris (the director) and Nadir D'Priest (of the band, London), a bunch of extended interviews, and the theatrical trailer. The commentary track was very entertaining and insightful and the chemistry between the two was very friendly and gives an atmosphere to that of being with your friends and watching a movie together.  It was funny hearing what they had to say about some of the moments in the film and made for a really good commentary track. 

The extended interviews are with the following bands and artists: Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Chris Holmes (of W.A.S.P.), Gene Simmons (of KISS), Lemmy (of Motorhead), Ozzy Osbourne, and Paul Stanley (also of KISS). The interviews are incredibly entertaining, interesting, insightful, and just plain fun to watch. Seeing all of these interviews is like licking off the icing of a cake, they are incredibly sweet. The interviews are especially good to watch as you get to see a lot of gems that didn't make the final cut of the film and it is all stuff that's worth watching.

The downside to the extended interviews is that they are in such poor quality due to deterioration of the original films, you'll also see some tearing of the tape in some parts and it can get a bit too ugly to look at. The audio in the interviews do not suffer from any problems, they sound very clear and easy to make out what they are all saying. The interviews are also really long and go for fifteen to twenties minutes long per interview, so you'll need to have a spare afternoon for if you want to get though them all in one sitting.

The trailer to the film was incredibly cheesy due to the overly serious narration. The clips used in the trailer itself weren't bad and did get me to want to watch the film all over again. The trailer to me didn't feel like a theatrical trailer but more like something that you'd see in the trailers section on a good old VHS that you'd used to rent back in the day.

Disc Three (Film Three) includes extended interviews with: Flea (FEAR, Red Hot Chilli Peppers), Keith Morris (Black Flag, Circle Jerks), Leonard Phillips (The Dickies), Rick Wilder (The Mau-Maus), and all of the teens and young adults that appear from the in-between scenes. This disc also contains a behind the scenes feature, a feature called Gutterpunks, footage from the LA County Museum of Art Panel to where parts one and three of this series got inducted, footage from the film premiere with introduction to the movie, an interview with Penelope Spheeris at the Sundance Film Festival 1998.  Lastly, you get the theatrical trailer to the film.

The interviews with the musicians are very interesting, certainly has a more mature tone to them than any of the other interviews found in this series. The interviews with the teens and young adults were very entertaining and interesting and are worth a watch. It is funny to see at how the youth hasn't changed all that much in all three films, it is also sad as it also shows that many of Earth's problems haven't changed.

The behind the scenes feature is pretty simple and straightforward as all you are seeing are the camera and crew filming the movie with some commentary by Penelope Spheeris. The behind the scenes feature was okay but nothing you'll watch more than once as the footage is very simple to where you'll understand everything during the first watch. The commentary was very nice and added some nice detailing to what was going on but I'd rather have this film have a commentary track instead of it being over the behind the scenes feature.

The special feature marked as "Gutterpunks" is just a promotional clip that has the main people that this film is focus on and showing them walking down the lonely road, the Boulevard of Broken Dreams and this feature is either interesting or disappointing depending on how you look at it. I looked at it as a nice teaser trailer to the film and it was shot very well but you won't find much entertainment, it is just a bunch of people walking. The panel from the LA County Museum of Art was alright and is everything you'd expect from a panel. This feature is fun to watch as a bonus as while entertaining, it isn't necessary to watch but I am glad to see it included onto the set. 

The footage from the film premiere was also alright, it has some entertainment value and it is always nice to see this kind of footage included with any release. The premiere footage does include an opening speech from before they ran the film and I just love that as I always like to run these kinds of features before starting the film, it adds a nice cool new layer to it. Sadly, there is no option that has this opening speech play before the actual movie and it would've been nice to see that option although it is rare to see a movie that actually does that. (Warning: off-topic trivia piece) The only time I've seen a release that has the introduction/opening speech was on the Japanese blu-ray of Code Geass R2 Volume One, I know because I owned that release back in the day (end of the off-topic bit).

The interview with Spheeris at the Sundance Film Festival was okay, it was entertaining but also pretty standard as far as interviews go, still enjoyable though. The theatrical trailer is pretty decent and is the most correct in tone out of all of the series' theatrical trailers. I liked how the trailer opened up with clips from the first two parts in a recap styling and the choice of footage they used from this film was good.

There're so many special features in this set that there's a bonus fourth disc that's full of even more bonus sweets for the soul. Included in this disc: More extended interviews of bands and young adults cut from the second film, a news report from about the first film, a feature cut from Part Two about the locations in a feature called Cruising the Strip. This disc has another panel from the LA County Museum of Art, a panel from 2003 about the third film, two interviews with Penelope Speeris, a feature called Nadir and Lizzie, and the theatrical trailer for the film called Suburbia (1984). Lastly, you get the credits for the people that worked on the extras (yep, you've read right).

The extended interviews are with the following bands: London, Megadeth, Odin, Poison. You also get interviews with Bill Gazzarri (a club owner that appeared in the film) and people from the crowd from the Megadeth concert that briefly appeared in this film. Just like the other extended interviews from Part Two, they are in poor visual quality due to the film deteriorating from age. Some of the audio in the interviews is very rough sounding and the audio will cut out sometimes but most of the audio is clear and is easy to understand. The interviews are very entertaining, some insightful, some are dirty but they are all in good fun. This feature also goes on for about as long as Decline Part Two does and feels like a movie all by itself. With the quality of these interviews, I can see why they were put on the fourth disc instead of being on the same disc as the second movie.

The news report is from a segment called Backstage Pass from Video West and it was very entertaining and well edited. The content is interesting to see as it shows interviews, music performances, and some clips from the Decline Part One. The editing will also remind you of MTV News... Hang on a second, this was from before MTV News was around and so MTV News should remind you of this but either way this is an entertaining feature.

The Cruising the Strip feature is a tour of the Sunset Strip in Los Angelos, where the clubs that appeared in Decline Part Two are. This feature covers more than that, they also talk to some of the people and bands that hang out on the strip and ask them some questions. This feature is entertaining and was very nice to see what was around in the strip back in the day, it is also nice to see people have a good time and enjoy themselves.

The Decline Part Two panel at the LA County Museum of Art is another entertaining piece but my views on this are the exact same as the panel for Decline Part One and Three. The key difference is that the panel are of the bands and people that appeared in the second film. I'm really glad to see that there's a panel for the second film from the LA County Museum of Art.  Speaking of panels for Decline Part Three, there's one from 2003 on this disc as well. This panel is a lot shorter than the other ones and it runs for just over six minutes in length, it isn't bad and nice to see more panels included. My problem is that some of the acoustics make it hard to understand some things said but you'll understand what's going on most of the time.
The two interviews with Penelope Spheeris are hosted by Tawn Mastrey and Mark Toscano. The first interview was really awesome, it was not only was it interesting, the editing was very fun and had a lot of the 1980's cheese, the good kind of cheese to where you'll find fun rather than making fun of it. The second interview was also very good and has a dramatically different tone from the first one and it has a more serious feeling to it. The second interview is like watching an episode of Inside the Actor's Studio (1994 - Ongoing) and that's great as I was worried that it was going to be pretentious and meaningless like all of the god-awful Ted Talks panels.

The Nadir and Lizzie feature is yet another extended interview from Decline Part Two, this time we have Nadir and Lizzie (of London) talking about pyrotechnics and the wild adventures in rock 'n roll. This interview was incredibly entertaining and is one of the best interviews found in the special features section. The interview is insightful, crude, rude, fun and it is a must see. Just like the other Decline Part Two extended interviews, expect the picture quality to be low but the audio is decent with the exception of some fuzziness during one part.

The Suburbia trailer is the trailer to a punk rock drama film that was also written by Penelope Spheeris. It's a pity that this film isn't in this set, it looks really interesting and fun to watch. The trailer itself was fun and does a great job at selling it to me, plus you get a weird clip of a guy deep throating a rat.. As in shoving a rat down his throat and not performing oral sex on it. Lastly, you get the credits for the people that worked on the special features and it's just credits and only worth a watch for if you want to know the people that helped with the special features.

Overall, this series of music documentaries are really, really good to the point of me ranking them up as not only some of the greatest music documentaries out there, they are also some of the greatest documentaries you will ever see.  You can put away all of your bootlegs as you now have a definitive edition of this legendary series that is an absolute must have for any music fan collection.  If you can't tell by now, yes, yes I do recommend going out and giving this important series a watch and you will enjoy them.  Legendary release.

Title: The Decline of Western Civilization - Complete Collection
Directed by: Penelope Spheeris
Genre:  Documentary, Music.
Distributed by: Via Vision Entertainment
Running Time: 400 minutes (3 Films)
Price: $34.95
Rating: MA15+ (Strong Coarse Language, Sexual References)
Recommended: Yes


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