Decline of Western Civilization, The (1981)

“Nothing else is going on — it’s the only form of revolution left.

Decline Western Civilization Poster

Punk bands in Los Angeles — including Fear, The Germs, Alice Bag Band, and more — channel their aggression and nihilism through music.


Penelope Spheeris‘s feature debut as a writer-director-producer was this insiders’ look at the punk music scene in L.A., mixing raw concert footage with interviews of band members, managers, fans, club owners, and others. A former “punk” herself, Spheeris effectively elicits their no-holds-barred thoughts on life, music, drugs, pet tarantulas, haircuts, dead gardeners, and… Well, you get the point. How interesting you find all of this will ultimately depend upon how intrigued you are either by subcultures in general, and/or with the punk movement, which we quickly learn is grounded in nihilism, anger, violence, and bigotry — all on ample display here. According to this documentary, punk fans and musicians seem to live for the moment when they can enter into a club and begin thrashing their emotions on their sleeve, harming others (and themselves) along the way as applicable. While Decline… is worth a look as an erstwhile cult favorite (and for the cultural footage it provides), it’s not must-see for all film fanatics — though I do recommend it for one-time viewing.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A valuable time-capsule snapshot of L.A. punk in the early 1980s
    Decline Western Civilization Germs

Must See?
No, though it’s recommended for one-time viewing. Listed as a Cult Movie and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


One Response to “Decline of Western Civilization, The (1981)”

  1. Oh, the things I do for this check-off list!

    First viewing. Not must-see…not unless, for some odd reason, you have a burning desire to learn more about this ‘music’ period (not that there’s much to learn here).

    However, it’s a really great doc if you want to spend 100 minutes listening not only to anti-music but to practically non-stop stupid comments by stupid people, delivered mostly via monotone, “I don’t give a shit about anything” voices.

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