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The Decline Of Western Civilization Collection

    Mark Tolch
    Senior Member

  • Decline Of Western Civilization Collection, The

    Released By: Shout Factory
    Released On: June 30, 2015
    Director: Penelope Spheeris
    Cast: Lee Ving, Derf Scratch, Darby Crash, Billy Zoom, John Doe, Dave Mustaine, Brett Michaels, Paul Stanley
    Year: Various
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Films:

    The Decline Of Western Civilization (Part One)

    Well. I'll be damned. If you would've told me 25 years ago that the noise-filled, 10th generation VHS copy of punk awesomeness that we were watching in my friend's basement...volume WAY down so as not to alarm the parents with the onslaught of profanity being spat out with intense conviction by a scary-looking mofo named Lee Ving....would someday be presented to the world in a gorgeous package of high definition goodness, I never would've believed it. The Decline of Western Civilization, music video Director Penelope Spheeris' foray into the world of documentaries, was such a difficult work for us to get our heads around, it was amazing that such a thing even existed. It wasn't difficult in the sense that it was complex material, or intellectually challenging to grasp, it's that the film seemed to come from another planet, made up of music, images, and mentalities that our civilization couldn't even begin to relate to.

    Of course, that "other planet" was Los Angeles, during a time that had taken place only a decade before. Immediately prior to the events set out in Decline, disco and prog rock dominated the airwaves. Guitar solos and cocaine were the order of the day. Hollywood glamour and the excesses of the 70's were ramping up into the 80's, promising even more cocaine and longer guitar solos. Everything seemed lovely until you noticed the poverty and the poisonous air, and a sense of desperation propelled L.A. into their very own punk movement, louder, faster, and uglier than much of what came before it. Bands like FEAR, Black Flag, Circle Jerks began popping up, aggressive names to match an aggressive sound. The barrier between audience and musician was torn down as bands and fans alike realized that they were in it together, fighting against common enemies; parents, cops, club owners, record labels...anyone who looked down their noses at this new trend.

    What Spheeris had created, either through lack of experience or strategic intention was a perfectly formed time capsule that managed to walk the line between social documentary and music film. Rounding up many of the kids who took part in the scene, she put them front and centre to tell their stories. Stories of homelessness, pent-up aggression, frustration with the ugliness around them, the need to commit acts of violence, the need to stop acts of violence; many voices, often conflicting with each other, but with the common ground of using punk rock as an outlet. In addition to the interviews of the kids going to the shows, Spheeris also gets some classic interview material from major players who would either disappear from the scene shortly afterwards, fading into obscurity or checking out in a pine box.

    Interviewing Black Flag at their rehearsal space, "The Church" gets some candid dialogue from drummer Robo, who waxes philosophically about human interaction and science while sipping from a 40 of Colt .45. Well-known grumpy guy guitarist Greg Ginn is not too grumpy at all here...more than likely loosened up by the same thing that caused the heavy glaze in his he talks about being banned from clubs and playing music for free. And singer Ron Reyes, who would later have a major falling out with Ginn (causing him to be named "Chavo Pederast" on subsequent pressings of Black Flag albums) is in great spirits here, showing off his tiny closet of a bedroom and displaying the underwear that his lady friends have left behind. Other interviews include a now-legendary piece done in the late Germs singer Darby Crash's kitchen as he makes breakfast, where he casually discusses his heavy alcohol and drug use, self-mutilation, and how to have fun when a dead body shows up in your backyard. Dropping in on the home of the band X, Spheeris gets footage of John Doe's home tattooing session, vocalist Exene's slightly inebriated commentary with hiccups, and a very annoyed looking Billy Zoom (Billy told me that he didn't want anything to do with Decline, feeling that having X in a documentary with certain crappy LA bands would lower their stature...unfortunately for Billy's wishes, Penelope encountered an inebriated John Doe at a club where he agreed to her request to be in the film, giving her the key to their house. When the group arrived home late after a gig, Billy was annoyed to find a crew set up in the living room...his bedroom...and Penelope's insistence on filming him on the couch...his bed) who manages to charm the world anyhow when he shows off his ear-wiggling tricks.

    Realizing that there was more to the scene than bands and fans, Speeris also gave some screen time to the people that kept the scene going, like the club owners, the fanzine staff, and the record labels. Perhaps the most notable, and a testament to the importance of the film is an interview with Brendan Mullen, founder of the legendary Masque club, which provided a venue for many of the punk bands to play at. And while the viewer may be inspired to want to punch Claude "Kickboy Face" in his face, the segment of the film dealing with the Slash Fanzine, which evolved into Slash Records (and signed X to their first record deal) is essential viewing.

    But let's be honest here....when people talk about The Decline of Western Civilization, they probably don't mention the kids being interviewed. They may talk about Robo and his mohawk, or Darby in his kitchen, they may mention John Doe and what a "FTW" tattoo is...but when people talk about The Decline of Western Civilization, you best believe that they talk about the mind-blowing performances committed to film. And there are a whole freakin' wack of them. Black Flag rips through White Minority and Depression (with subtitles so you can sing along!) before Ron Reyes rants about the LAPD and kicks into Revenge. Darby Crash stumbles and falls across the stage, drawing on his face, getting drawn on, yelling for a beer, while he incoherently slurs his way through Manimal and Shutdown. The bizarre harmonies of John and Exene, coupled with Billy Zoom's lightning-fast rockabilly/punk riffs show that X was capable of being musically talented and playing punk rock as they blast through Beyond and Back, Johnny Hit and Run Paulene, and We're Desperate. The classic lineup of Circle Jerks are only on screen for a short time, but manage to get through 5 songs in as many minutes...Red Tape, Back Against The Wall, I Just Want Some Skank, Beverly Hills, and Wasted. Alice Bag Band aren't featured prominently, but do perform Prowlers In The Night and Gluttony, and FEAR....oh, FEAR.

    Taking to the stage like a nasty case of hepatitis, FEAR waste absolutely no time driving the audience to violence. Encouraging a riot by firing obscenities everywhere, they give as good as they get ("Eat my fuck, asshole", "Next time don't bite so hard when I cum"), instigating concert-goers to attack them onstage and then beating the shit out of them. The music is no less intense, with songs like I Don't Care About You (Fuck You!), Beef Balogna, I Love Livin' In The City, and Let's Have A War (Give guns to the queers!) played at faster than double time, singer Lee Ving spitting out the words in a way that you can't tell if he's deadly serious or laughing his ass off, with Spit Stix and Derf Scratch keeping time and Philo Cramer bending the neck of his SG in a completely unnatural way. By the time FEAR hit the finale, "In the land of the free, and the homos too!" you'll realize that 10 minutes of FEAR was worth the price of admission alone.

    What more can be said about The Decline of Western Civilization? At 1 hour and 40 minutes, it's about as perfect as it gets. Penelope Spheeris' idea of what needed to be included, and her good fortune to be where she was right when she needed to be makes for a fantastic excursion into the world of LA punk. And while the viewers who grew up in this internet age may not understand, at one time, it was a chance window into a world most of us had never seen.


    There are a number of extras on this disc that will be discussed here...the extras on the Bonus disc will be discussed at the end of the review.

    First off, The Decline of Western Civilization comes to blu-ray (finally!) from Shout Factory in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, preserving the original ratio of the film. What's to say about this video transfer? For those of us who have been watching bootleg VHS, bootleg VHS transferred to DVD-R, downloads, etc, while we waited for this film to come out officially...well, the wait is over. The picture looks great considering the source material. If there were any artifacts, I didn't notice them. It looks simply wonderful. But wait. It doesn't look SO wonderful that the punk rock purists will be bitching about how it's not the real thing unless it looks like somebody wiped their ass with it and flushed it all the way to Long Island. As is described in the commentary, the original negative for the film is long gone. This print was created from a nice looking one that was floating around. And it was an independent, low budget film. So while the transfer itself is pristine, there are still enough warts on it to tell your friends that you're keeping it real, and at no point will you feel that the transfer is so clean that it takes you out of the film.

    There are two audio options available for the main feature: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, and 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Both are perfectly serviceable, though you will definitely notice the limitations of the source. There is a distortion on the upper register that grates at first before you become used to it. The 5.1 makes very moderate use of the surrounds, adding only slight background ambience.

    Extras on the disc are also plentiful. First up is New Footage, with X Signs Contract (2:48) of a signing party in 1980 where the band X signed to Slash Records. Tour of the Masque (7:55) is vintage footage of Brendan Mullen's legendary club, and Mullen is also interviewed.

    New Performances is what most of us have been waiting for...footage of FEAR performing We Destroy The Family, No More Nothing, Fresh Flesh, and the incredibly un-PC Waiting For The Gas, The Germs performing Lexicon Devil and Let's Pretend, and The Gear doing Elk's Lodge Blues. This footage is not cleaned up, and some of it includes rehearsal footage that Spheeris shot.

    Henry Rollins Interviews Penelope Spheeris (5:06) is a clip from Rollins' TV show. It's interesting to find out that Spheeris wanted to cast Rollins in her film Suburbia, and she also discusses how she progressed from filming documentaries to directing Wayne's World, and the genesis of each of the Decline films.

    Announcements (2:44) is the chronological showing of each band announcement that was cut up at the beginning of the film for the montage.

    Extended Interviews with Black Flag, Darby Crash, X, Brendan Mullen, Nicole (Germs Manager) and the "Light Bulb Kids" are also available and well-worth watching, and a Theatrical Trailer is also featured.

    A commentary with Penelope Speeris and her daughter Anna Fox yields some fun facts on where some of the players of the film are now, the DIY ethics Spheeris used on the first film, the locations, the lost negative, the punk scene at the time, and Penelope's love of Lee Ving.

    A more confusing commentary involves Dave Grohl, which starts out okay as he talks about his love of the film and the sound track and how punk changed his life, but quickly dissolves into huge gaps of silence, interspersed with Grohl singing along quietly to some performances and saying things like "I fuckin loved this band". A chance to talk about working with Pat Smear in Nirvana is limited only to Grohl mentioning that he worked with Pat Smear in Nirvana, and aside from some kind of star drawing power, it's hard to understand why this useless commentary was included.

    The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years

    Hoo boy. After the moderate success of The Boys Next Door and Dudes, Penelope Spheeris once again jumped back into the musical documentary fray with The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. If the first film screamed against the excesses of Hollywood and a music scene overwrought with bloated egos, her 1987 addition to the franchise seemed to embrace it. "Seemed" is the key word here, as it's never quite clear if Penelope and co. are doing a straight documentary, or if she's giving the players enough long, teased tresses to hang themselves.

    The formula is the same; the "Light Bulb Kids" are back, but Eugene the skinhead isn't here complaining about ugly old people wrecking his day; he's been replaced by girls, boys, boys who look like girls, etc, raving about the hair metal scene on the Sunset Strip. A mom with heavily teased hair encourages her little boy with heavily teased hair to throw the horns at the camera, guys with heavily teased hair talk about how much they like to wear makeup, girls with heavily teased hair either support guys wearing makeup or talk out against it....but it's clear that the heavy social issues that popped up throughout the first film are nowhere to be found here.

    Indeed, even the band interviews are largely inspired, by booze, blow, and babes, though there are some classic comedy moments. Chris Holmes from W.A.S.P., in a direct contradiction to the interview with Black Flag, floats in a pool lounger and liberally dumps 26'ers of vodka into his upturned mouth while his mother looks on in comedically exasperated disapproval, while he talks about how he deals with fame. Gene Simmons is interviewed in a lingerie shop, dressed in full leather regalia, allowing himself to be heavily distracted by scantily-clad girls walking by every few seconds. KISS bandmate Paul Stanley one-ups him by being interviewed in a bed with multiple girls clinging to him, describing the rock n roll lifestyle and what it means to him...which is apparently the ability to lay around in bed with multiple girls clinging to you.

    Sadder still are the whole host of hair rock bands that Spheeris has assembled for interview, bands like Odin, London, and Poison, who talk about nothing but making it big and the size of their dicks, the amount of girls that they've slept with, how trashing hotels comes naturally to them, and why they're going to be the next big thing no matter what. Decline II is full of this nonsense, idiots with big stupid hair who think that 80's glam is going to last forever. Fortunately for the viewer, there are also interviews with some heavy hitters that manage to keep things within the atmosphere of planet earth, like Lemmy...Lemmy who is just so cool that he doesn't care how ugly he is, how ugly his band is, who's wearing makeup...he's just going to play metal because that's what he does. Even Joe Perry and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith come off as fairly grounded, discussing the influences of The Pretty Things, the New York Dolls and The Stones, and how they're honoured by the bands that are ripping them off. When compared to a band like London saying "Our dicks get hard for gold cards", it's a lot easier to respect Aerosmith for having done it all before. Of course, the shining interview star of Decline II is Ozzy Osbourne, beautifully dressed in his bathrobe, cooking breakfast and discussing everything from Black Sabbath to his modern-day career.

    In keeping with the themes found in the first film, The Metal Years also looks at the club owners, but instead of entrepreneurs dedicated to helping bands, we get Cathouse owner Riki Rachtman, who opened his club "to pick up chicks" and Ben Gazzarri, a dirty old man in a fedora who sets up beauty contests with teased hair blonds humping the stage in lingerie to win the title.

    The Metal Years gets a lot of things right; the band interviews with hairballs you'll never hear from again contrasted with metal legends; an interview with a cop from the LAPD who talks about his feelings towards the glam dudes on the Strip; and let's not forget the reps from Back In Control, a group that specializes in "de-metalling" your children and how the sign of the horns actually contains three sixes, for the number of the beast; all of these things are vastly entertaining. The performances themselves are also pretty damn funny, as Lizzie Borden rocks through Steppenwolf's Born To Be Wild with every fashion accessory available, and Odin (who are going to get signed, any day now) take to the stage with assless chaps and fans blowing their long hair back. Even Megadeth, who Dave Mustaine paints as the outsiders and underdogs in his book, are portraits of douchebaggery here, with Dave yipping about his dick size before talking about how Megadeth are different than "Gay LA Metal", yet acting just like every other band in the film.

    The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years IS entertaining, but probably shouldn't have been made. It completely ruins Spheeris' integrity when it comes to the first film, because it's really not a joke...she says in the bonus features that this was her scene in the 80's, her friends. As a satire, it's hilarious. As a serious's sad.


    The Metal Years comes to blu-ray in a 1.78:1 transfer that looks fantastic. Like the first Decline film, most of us have been subjected to VHS boots and DVD rips for years, and this new blu-ray is a revelation. There are no issues to speak of video-wise.

    There are once again, two audio tracks provided...a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and a 2.0 track. Once again, both are perfectly fine with the surround track providing a little more ambience. No cracks or pops are present, and it sounds great.

    A number of extras have been provided, and once again, any extras pertaining to part II on the bonus disc will be addressed later.

    First up is a trailer for the film.

    Next up are Extended Interviews with Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, Chris Holmes, Gene Simmons, Lemmy, Ozzy, and Paul Stanley. A disclaimer at the beginning of the interviews warns that the original B-Roll was destroyed, and the quality is subsequently lacking. And it is. Interviews are worth watching, but the video quality is equal to a VHS-dupe of a film daily.

    A commentary with Penelope Spheeris and Nadir D'Priest, the vocalist for London is also included. Again, there's a lot of Where are they Now moments. Unfortunately, Spheeris talks frequently about how original the hair metal scene is...which it isn't...but she has a lot of affection for the folks she's interviewing.

    The Decline Of Western Civilization Part III

    Eleven years after The Metal Years, a quarter century after the first Decline film, and following Wayne's World, The Beverly Hillbillies, and The Little Rascals, Penelope Spheeris decided to kick out another documentary in the form of The Decline of Western Civilization Part III. Again with the announcements, again with the Light Bulb Kids, Penelope went back to her roots and hit the streets to interview the gutterpunks, punk rock kids who had lost favour with their parents and found themselves on the streets.

    Shockingly enough, the kids are still angry. The kids still hate the cops, they still hate their parents, and they're still outcasts in society, living on the street. This is Spheeris' point, and she's proud to make it...this is a film about deadbeat parents and the effect that their actions have on thr kids. But what is she showcasing? Kids discussing the first time that they had a powerful. Kids talkin about how they don't know who their parents powerful. But kids joking about running around and getting fucked up and shitting their pants in public, well, big deal. And that's the main problem with Decline III...what point are you making here, Penelope?

    There was actually some talk, as it's mentioned in the booklet accompanying the set, that Penelope was offered serious cash to do Part III on the hip-hop scene. As I sat through Part III, which was painfully long and depressing, I wondered what that would look like. We saw punks, we saw hairballs, why not hip-hop kids? Spheeris manages to keep things a little interesting by getting some good interview subjects like Keith Morris (showing clips from part 1 as well) and Flea, but it's too little to keep the film from being anything but a seriously depressing trip to the streets. By the time Part III is finished, the innovation of Part 1 is long seems to be not so significant.

    In the spirit of the Decline films, however, music is still a big part of this latest installment and it almost manages to yank the film back into familiar territory. Final Conflict and Litmus Green provide an adequate soundtrack, but it's Kirsten Patches and Naked Aggression that drive this film home, with their socially charged lyrics, unique musicianship, and super-fast delivery. Ultimately, though, Decline III is a hodge-podge mess of footage, interviews, and a message that takes far too long to deliver. As the final entry , it's can still hope that Spheeris does that hip-hop documentary.


    Decline III looks great in 1.78:1, and being that it's never been released prior, we can forgive any inconsistencies in picture. Most people will never have seen this film outside of a very shitty bootleg, and this transfer is a godsend for fans of the film.

    The DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 soundtracks once again are very similar with no real issues.

    Extended Interviews with Flea, Keith Morris, Leonard Phillip (The Dickies) and the Light Bulb Kids are included if you feel inclined to be cheered up a bit, and an extended interview with Rikk Wilder from The Mau-Maus is also present if you feel like being told how miserable things are.

    Behind the Scenes (6:41) is Penelope interviewing the kids in the film, with commentary by Spheeris on how bossy she is.

    Gutterpunks (2:13) is a throwaway feature on punks walking around. Who cares, already.

    LA County Museum of Art Panel (20:59) is a pretty cool discussion with Penelope Spheeris, Lee Ving, Greg Hetson, and Kirsten Patches, talking about how they got into punk, the films that Spheeris directed, and Lee Ving ripping into deadbeats.

    Premiere/Movie Introduction (3:45) is just that, from 1998, while the Sundance Interview (6:09) finds Penelope Spheeris at the Sundance Film Festival

    A trailer is also included.

    Bonus Disc:

    Decline II Extended Interviews (1:18:00) features interviews with London, Megadeth, Odin, Poison, Ben Gazzarri, and the crowd outside of the Megadeth show. As was mentioned on the disc for Part II, the original B-Roll was destroyed, so the quality is not good.

    Tawn Mastrey Interviews Spheeris (11:05) - The Metal DJ host of "The Cutting Edge" interviews Penelope, with some entertaining clips from a screening of The Metal Years and the critics reaction. The whole interview is awkward and very weird.

    LA Country Museum of Art Panel- Decline II (14:14) is from 2014 and features Nadir D'Priest from London, Riki Rachtman (owner of the Cathouse) Rikki Rockett (Poison) and Penelope Spheeris discussing the hair metal scene, and an interesting theory on what actually killed the glam scene...

    Mark Toscano Interviews Spheeris (10:37) - University of Michigan interview in which they discuss Penelope's start in music videos, the lead to the Decline film, and the criticism over the first film.

    Nadir and Lizzie (16:11) is more crappy quality B-Roll footage of interviews.

    A trailer for Suburbia and credits for the Extras are also included (with a live take of FEAR doing Camarillo).

    The Final Word:

    In all honesty, the price of admission is worth it just for the first film in this set. That being said, the second film is also definitely worth seeing, and the third...well, decide for yourself. After so many years of these films being unavailable in any kind of "modern day" format, this release from Shout! is a blessing. Most would've been content with a barebones release, but being packed with extras makes this purchase a no-brainer. Get on it. NOW.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!




    • Mark Tolch
      Mark Tolch
      Senior Member
      Mark Tolch commented
      Editing a comment

      In related news, Billy Zoom reported today that he had 3 tumours removed, but is still battling cancer. Man, fuck cancer.

    • Roderick
      Roderick commented
      Editing a comment
      Nice write-up, Tolch. I've watched the first disc and all it's extras minus the Grohl commentary which I bailed on after about 15 minutes. The bonus footage is fantastic and the Spheeris commentary is a bit unfocused, but she offers up some good tidbits of information here and there and her love for the scene and the people comes across strongly. I haven't gotten around to the other movies or bonus disc yet, but I am more than satisfied with the presentation of the first movie. I saw one of the few original screenings of Decline III and liked it more than II at the time, so I will have to see if it still holds up for me.

    • Mark Tolch
      Mark Tolch
      Senior Member
      Mark Tolch commented
      Editing a comment
      Yeah, the first disc alone is worth the cost of the set. Considering its only 40 bucks CAD on right now, its a nobrainer says I
    Posting comments is disabled.

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