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The Decline of Western Civilization

Screening on Film
Directed by Penelope Spheeris.
US, 1981, 35mm, color, 100 min.
Print source: Spheeris Films

Shot on 16mm with sync sound in dive clubs, cheap apartments and in Hollywood's shadows at the dawn of the 1980s, The Decline of Western Civilization turns an insider's jaundiced eye on Southern California's early punk scene. Interviewing a wide array of experts – teenagers at rock shows, musicians, club owners, music critics – Spheeris penetrates the aggressive, irreverent punk scene and attitude, revealing layers of the underground heretofore unseen by a mainstream audience. For the benefit of the uninitiated, some songs are subtitled and even slam dancing is more-or-less "explained." Focusing on live performance by such bands as Black Flag, X, Circle Jerks, Fear, and the Germs, and including rare footage of gay punk icon Darby Crash, the documentary even-handedly and intimately studies multiple facets of punk culture while letting punks speak for themselves.

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