The Decline of Western Civilization | Chicago Reader

The Decline of Western Civilization

Rated R 100 minutes

Eugene, the bitter little skinhead whose interview opens this still potent 1981 documentary about Los Angeles punk rock, declares that he likes the music because "there's no rock stars." Director Penelope Spheeris doesn't seem to agree—she shoots the fan interviews in black and white, while the bands and music people (including Slash Records founder Robert Biggs) comment and perform in color. LA punk lacked the politics of its British and the brains of its New York predecessors, and its proximity to the epicenter of celebrity culture fueled a violent strain of Carter-era nihilism. The live sets by X, Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, the Germs, and Fear, recorded between December 1979 and May 1980, still thunder after all these years; unfortunately so do the scene's racism, queer baiting, and utter despair.

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