director Penelope Spheeris
I was thrilled when it was announced earlier this year that director Penelope Spheeris was finally releasing her Deline of Western Civilization trilogy on DVD. Though in the past you could have hunted down VHS versions of the first two films, the 3rd movie in the series ran very briefly in theaters and then disappeared altogether. I was also very pleased when the trilogy came to Fandor very recently.
The theme of the films, following a music scene in Los Angeles, focusing on the kids and their culture continues here, though the music becomes less and less the story. Only 4 bands appear: Final Conflict, Litmus Green, Naked Aggression and The Resistance, none of whom would be considered major influences on the music world. But the music is telling, in contrast with what she captured in 1988 in The Metal Years. From the vapidity of that film’s would-be rock stars, these bands are very politicized and sing about social critique and change, very close to the kids who are at the film’s true heart.
Spheeris is taken with the gutterpunks, and the bulk of the film is interviews with the disaffected homeless youth. They share a lot more in common with the punks of her original The Decline of Western Civilization (1981), those living the lives of squatters, scavengers, echoing the words of X’s “We’re Desperate”. The gutterpunks come across as even more outside of the mainstream world, further outcast, and Spheeris seems to take them more seriously and care for them more than the subjects of her prior two documentaries.
It’s a significant turn from the LA and subjects of 1988. The obscurity of the subjects here and the obscurity of this film for the past 18 years makes one wonder about the whereabouts and well-beings of the subjects here. It’s telling that even before the film was completed, one of the kids had killed another.
In total, this is an excellent series of films. You almost wish that Spheeris had thought to visit the music scene even more, capturing LA at its changing music heart.