Decline of Western Civilization changed my life. Period. In 1983, on a whim similar to inexplicably purchasing Rat Music For Rat People Volumes 1-3 with my paper route money that same year, punk rock filtered into my parent’s basement when I was 13 and there was never the opportunity to look back. Seeing the Chavo fronted Black Flag completely blew my mind. The Circle Jerks were captivating. The Germs were a gorgeous slow-motion train wreck. X made me entertain the idea of getting a "FTW" tattoo until I was well out of high school. And Claude Bessy (from Catholic Discipline) was my first glimpse into fanzine culture. This documentary made me declare "Sign me up!" for what I was only beginning to understand from my parent’s suburban Colorado house.
Flash ahead several years and Decline 2: The Metal Years is released. At this point in my life, metal (specifically glam metal) was a glaring punch line to me. I was immersed in college radio, and the decadent hair metal scene was the chosen enemy. But even though I continue to distrust the legitimacy of many of the bands in the movie (Poison, London and Faster Pussycat), the inclusion of metal’s greatest yucksters (Ozzy, Lemmy and those douchebags in Kiss) made me come to the stark realization that Decline 2 continues to be one of the landmark comedies released in the 20th century. I will openly fist fight anybody that disagrees with me.
Jump ahead again to 1997 and to the release of Decline of Western Civilization Part III. This movie barely was mentioned in the national press (Vice ran a feature as I remember) and never even stepped foot inside the indie cinema in Atlanta. And just as quickly as I heard of it, it disappeared from sight. That is, it disappeared…..until now. For a limited time, director Penelope Spheeris is offering this movie for the cost of a self addressed stamped envelope. Get a copy right now and witness homeless people masquerading as punk rockers…
The movie focuses on the gutter punk movement of the mid-90’s which, if you haven’t figured out already by 2007, is an irrelevant vanilla reiteration of punk. "How do you get to gutter punk?" you ask. Take punk. Make it dumb. Toss out the ambition. Remove the showers. Add squaters. Add face tattoos. Let a hobo shit on it. Let it dry. Set it on fire. There, that’s gutter punk for you.
Fortunately, Spheeris clings tightly to the aesthetic of the first Decline (read: low budget production) which works quite well. However, Decline 3 (unlike the other two) doesn’t seem to really have a very strong narrative and instead just follows the dead end hobos masquerading as nouveau punks in Los Angeles. Think I’m wrong? Wait until you see them in front of Mann’s Chinese Theater getting their photos taken to buy 40 oz. bottles of malt liquor. Not that I don’t feel sympathy for the homeless and/or poor, but the people in this movie make it difficult to feel even remotely sorry for them. It’s almost akin to seeing Eddie Murphy going around on a skateboard at the beginning of Trading Places asking for money when he clearly can walk and/or work.
It would be far too easy to make fun of Spheeris’ filmography. Television-reruns-turned-cinematic-abortions abound (The Beverly Hillbillies, The Little Rascals) alongside groan worthy "comedies" (Senseless, Hollyweird), but amidst it all, I have to give it up to Ms. Spheeris for sinking her money from those wastes of celluloid into creations like the Decline series. Get a copy of Decline 3 right now before they’re all gone and see what the fuss is about.
I’ve included video footage of Chavo-fronted Black Flag and a handful of mp3s from the first Decline to further galvanize my case that the first movie might be one of the greatest documentaries to ever be released.
Black Flag – Revenge
Alice Bag Band – Gluttony
Fear – I Love Livin’ In The City
Circle Jerks – I Just Want Some Skank
Germs – Manimal
X – We’re Desperate
Black Flag – White Minority