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DVD Reviews for 5/20: Anarchy in the DVD!

by Peter Sobczynski

I didn’t watch the premiere of the long-awaited Britney Spears-Kevin Federline home movie-cum-UPN filler “Chaotic” when it was broadcast a few days ago. However, the reviews have been poisonous enough to suggest that I, like much of America, didn’t really miss much of anything other than a hodgepodge of slapped-together camcorder footage of the couple acting like a pair of glassy-eyed dopes. Personally, I was disappointed to hear this as there was a part of me that secretly hoped that Spears would use the combination of her inexplicable popularity and UPN’s desperate need to air something that might attract viewers that didn’t deal with “Star Trek” or rassling to come up with something truly demented that would challenge the expectations of the most ardent fans of her bubblegum-pop career. In other words, I wanted to see the Britney version of “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle,” perhaps the strangest middle finger that a musical act–in this case, the legendary punk group The Sex Pistols–has ever extended to its fans and one that remains one of the most weirdly compelling rock films ever produced. Intriguingly, the film made its American DVD debut on the very same day that Spears’s series premiered–coincidence or evidence that the gods of rock have a strange sense of humor?

Even the origins of the film are fairly deranged. Originally, the Pistols, then at the height of their brief popularity in 1978, and manager Malcom McLaren had hired sexploitation auteur Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert (who had previously collaborated on “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” said to be one of the favorite films of the band) to make a film entitled “Who Killed Bambi?” Inevitably, the project fell apart, as did the band not soon afterwards. Instead, McLaren hired a young Brit named Julien Temple (who would later go on to make the cult hits “Absolute Beginners” and “Earth Girls are Easy”) to create a film that would stand as a sort of cinematic last will and testament from the band to its fans. Instead of a straightforward documentary or puff piece, Temple and McLaren came up with a bizarre hodgepodge that combined some archival bits of the band at work and play as well as the virulent reactions that they inspired in the press and the government (one official seriously says that the best thing that could happen to the group would be their total annihilation, new fantasy sequences, crude animation, disco covers of tunes like “Pretty Vacant” and “God Save the Queen,” midget-related weirdness and the unforgettable spectacle of Sid Vicious singing (in a fashion) “My Way.” Linking all of this together are McLaren’s alleged rules for creating and sustaining a pop sensation–in essence, he posits the group as nothing more than an elaborate scam to bilk record companies and fans out of enormous sums of money (at one point, one record company pays them a large amount of cash not to record for them after signing a contract.)

Although the film fails on even the most rudimentary levels as a documentary–Temple would make a more straightforward history lesson on the band and their meaning two decades later in the interesting “The Filth and the Fury”–“The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle” is nevertheless one of those rare film oddities that not only lives up to its infamous hype, it actually exceeds it. Like a great punk record of the day, it is loud, crude, sloppy, annoying and hilarious in ways that are absolutely fascinating to behold–it is impossible to conceive of any musical performer today who would be willing to associate themselves with even the mildest of the outrages on display here. And while there is less footage of the band actually performing than you might expect, the performance clips that we do glimpse show that even if they were a fraud, the group possessed an energy and reckless abandon that few performers working today could claim.

Written and directed by Julien Temple. Starring Malcolm McLaren, John Lydon, Sid Vicious, Steve Jones and Paul Cook. 1980. 103 minutes. Unrated. A Shout Factory release. $19.98.


BATMAN: RETURN TO THE BATCAVE (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $14.95): Frank Gorshin, you did not die in vain! In the recent string of made-for-TV programs celebrating the behind-the-scenes antics of other old TV programs, this one remains by far the strangest. Half-memoir, half-spoof, all-ridiculous, this 2003 film kicks off with the Batmobile being stolen and only two people can possibly track it down–Adam West and Burt Ward. As they search for the car, they offer memories of the wild times behind the legendary TV series that made famous enough to one day appear in the likes of “Family Guy” and “Assault of the Party Nerds 2: The Heavy Petting Detectives.”

DANCE WITH ME, HENRY (MGM Home Entertainment. $14.95): Although this low-grade 1956 “comedy” is as dismal and laughless an experience as you can possibly imagine, it is nevertheless worth a mention as the last on-screen pairing of Abbott & Costello.

THE GRUDGE-EXTENDED EDITION (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): You know, the notion that they have actually made this fairly worthless American remake of the fairly worthless Japanese original a few minutes longer might actually be the only genuinely scary thing about it.

KINSEY (Fox Home Entertainment. $34.95): Considering that he has already played a father figure to the likes of Darth Vader, Batman, Bart Simpson, Leonardo Di Caprio and Orlando Bloom, it makes perfect sense that Liam Neeson would be cast as the father of modern sexuality in this superlative biopic–a performance that, if there was any justice, would have taken home the Best Actor Oscar.

NOTRE MUSIQUE (Wellspring Entertainment. $29.95): The latest cinematic provocation from Jean-Luc Godard was a typically oblique meditation of life, death, love and art that was both visually ravishing and dramatically muddled. However, considering the fact that this is the kind of film that requires multiple viewings in order to unlock its various secrets, the more adventurous of you may discover that it plays better at home.

RICHARD THOMPSON-LIVE FROM AUSTIN, TX (Red Distribution Inc. $19.98): The live concert performance from the famed cult artist is worth the purchase price simply for the inclusion of two of his finest songs, “Shoot Out the Lights” and the transcendent “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.”

SCRUBS: SEASON ONE (Buena Vista Home Video. $49.99): Now that the brain trust at NBC has decided to jettison this critically-acclaimed comedy from its fall schedule (holding it for a mid-season replacement) in order to make room for the likes of “The Apprentice: Martha Stewart,” “My Name is Earl” and a drama about a fertility clinic actually named “Inconceivable,” fans will have to make do with this set collecting the hilarious initial 22 episodes.

THE SEA INSIDE (New Line Home Entertainment. $27.95): Imagine the last third of “Million Dollar Baby,” only longer, slower, duller and filled with Spanish people.

SEINFELD: SEASON 4 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. $49.95): This was the season when the show went from being a cult favorite to a national phenomenon–episode for episode, this may be the most consistently amusing streak of shows of its entire run. Found within the 24 episodes are such classic bits as Jerry and George pitching a show about “nothing,” the Bubble Boy, Jerry dating a virgin, a certain infamous contest, the differences between flying first-class and coach, Christmas card nipples, inadvertent outings, enormous goiters, Junior Mint-related medical miracles, guest appearances from the likes of Clint Howard, Denise Richards and Teri Hatcher and dozens of instant catchphrases, of which “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” and “Mulva!” are probably the most famous. (Sadly, one of my favorites, “All right! Let me finish my coffee, then we’ll go watch them slice this fat bastard up.” never quite took off.)

SIMPSONS-BART WARS: (Fox Home Entertainment. $14.98): Another one of those weird single discs that Fox occasionally slaps together of a few randomly-selected episodes to tide fans over during the gaps between the actual box sets–this one seems especially egregious since the package indicates that it is connected to “Star Wars,” even though only one of the episodes makes any real reference to the films. (That would be the one where Homer becomes Mayor Quimby’s bodyguard and Mark Hamill arrives to do “Guys and Dolls”.)

TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE (Paramount Home Video. $29.95): F@$% yeah! All of you puppet-sex enthusiasts will be giddy to learn that the unrated edition contains the infamous love scene in all of its gross, uncensored glory. Fitfully amusing, but when it is funny, it is really funny.

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originally posted: 05/20/05 23:10:31
last updated: 05/21/05 00:17:53
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