The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)

The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988) movie poster

director Penelope Spheeris
viewed: 11/16/2015

Back in 1988, I couldn’t have been less interested in The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years.  What is now disdained as “Hair Metal” was just the active metal scene in those days, scoring top 40 hits and rather inescapable as pop culture.  I spent 1988 actively avoiding such.

Penelope Spheeris, whose 1981 documentary on the LA punk scene, The Decline of Western Civilization, actually documented bands and a scene that had something cool and great about it, here turns her camera and inspection to Hollywood and the music scene a couple years out from her first film.  Here she finds hair, teased and hairsprayed to monumental proportions, cliché-ridden tunes, and sleazy douchebags.

Interestingly, the bands she snags to perform in the film are mostly lesser ones, barely even has-beens, with the exception of Megadeth, who she plops in at the end of the film on a possible up-note.  More notable are her interviewees who don’t perform: Alice Cooper, Lemmy, Ozzy, the band Poison, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of Kiss, and Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, adding more commercial notability.  And in the end, Spheeris seems more interested in the people and culture than in the music as opposed to her first film in the series.

Sex and drugs and rock’n’roll, ever heard that one before?  That is virtually all this film is about, though many avoid copping to the drugs on camera (though booze does nicely).

There are several noteworthy moments.  The whole Ozzy interview is quite amusing.  Lemmy and Alice Cooper come off as pretty cool people, unlike most of these asses.  Some of them come off as inherently charming asses, but it’s interesting to think through the “where are they now?” a bit.  Obviously, the biggest and most famous are still among us.

While not exactly an exposé, The Metal Years seems amusedly disdainful.  Spheeris was in her early 40’s when she made this and you can sense from her voice and questions that she’s maybe a little over-it-all with the hedonist jackasses.  She does interview a couple of groupie girls and a little of a female-fronted metal band, but doesn’t give the latter all that much space.

Though Metallica already existed, it would only be a year or two out that Nirvana would come on the scene and the hair bands large and small would stop representing the face of “metal”.  Thank goodness for that.

An interesting time capsule.

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