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the pathetic caverns - movies by title - Never Mind the Bollocks

eclectic reviews and opinions

Never Mind the Bollocks

2002, D: Matthew Longfellow

You'd think by now we'd all know the myth of the Sex Pistols, but somehow it changes a little bit with each telling. This nifty little documentary about the recording of the watershed album mixes some by-now familiar archival footage with recent interviews with the band and with key players like provocateur Malcom Maclaren, producer Chris Thomas, and engineer Bill Price, and takes the legend through another turn.

Around the time of Sid and Nancy, Lydon was claiming in interviews that the Cox's film perpetuated the notion that Vicious wasn't a very good bass player; he's reversed himself on that and has nothing positive to say about Sid as a musician. Also interesting is that Matlock and Lydon seem to have independently concluded that McLaren maneuvered them into disliking each other enough to force Matlock out of the band. (This seems pretty credible, actually.)

One element of the story that this video, fortunately, doesn't propogate is the old saw about the (Matlock-era) Pistols not really being able to play; the live clips demonstrate that they were a tight, dynamic band. Despite Steve Jones deadpan joke that Chris Spedding played everything and "was standing behind the curtain" for live performances, this documentary should also set the record straight about who really played what: Jones on guitar and bass for almost the whole album.

For anyone who's interested in either recording or guitar-playing and has even a passing interest in classic punk, I'd call this a must-see; non-guitar-players and non-recording geeks who aren't serious fans of the band might find it less essential.

For my part, Bill Price's contributions alone were easily worth the purchase price. The soft-spoken engineer with trembly fingertips and rapidly blinking eyes radiates an enormous good humor and affability. He walks through the microphone setup, with tons of juicy details, and better yet, pulls up the original tapes on a mixing desk to demonstrate some of the mixing details. Particularly revelatory here are the ways which Jones guitar parts were built up, and the way that Price used gates on Cook's drums to trigger ambient mics, giving the drums what Price describes with evident delight as "a lovely clattery sound" like "dustbins falling down stairs."

Very nearly as worthwhile are the extremely different clips of Glen Matlock and Steve Jones demonstrating how to play the band's signature riffs. Jones speaks disparagingly of Matlock's fondness for "Beatle chords," and is self-deprecating about his own level of musicanship, but his fingering is economical and his timing is solid. The ways in which he simplified Matlock's parts to give them more punch and drive are extremely instructive.

The documentary suffers a bit from typical editing impatience. I was frustrated that every time the Pistols cranked up an awesome tune and I started getting into it, the cameras would cut away for more talking head stuff — as good as the interview material was, I still wanted to see a full performance of at least a song or two. There are two unedited live performances in the bonus section of the disc, but neither are album tracks, and the recording quality of both is lacking in comparison to some of the other footage.

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