28 Jun ‘The Documentary Podcast’ Ep. 11: ‘Decline of Western Civilization,’ with Penelope Spheeris, John Doe
The latest episode of “The Documentary Podcast” takes a headfirst — and head-banging — plunge into “The Decline of Western Civilization.”
The music documentaries “The Decline of Western Civilization” (about the late-’70s, early-’80s L.A. punk scene) and “The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years” (the same city’s hard rock scene of the mid to late ’80s) are considered classic music and cultural documentaries. Those two films — plus a third movie that was previously unreleased — have been packaged together in a new boxed set (Shout Factory, list price $59.98 Blu-ray) that hits stores June 30, marking the first time any of the movies have been available on DVD or Blu-ray.
The podcast episode discusses the movies’ lasting impact and includes interviews with their director, Penelope Spheeris, who later went on to helm Hollywood blockbusters like “Wayne’s World.” She is joined by her daughter, Anna Fox, who spearheaded the boxed set, including curating a disc of from-the-vault extras.
Spheeris talks about the impetus for the creation of all three films, providing insight and behind-the-scenes memories about what ties them together — and what makes them distinct. Among the topics:
“The Decline of Western Civilization” (1981) features performances by — and interviews with — important hardcore punk acts such as Black Flag, the Germs and the Circle Jerks, along with key L.A. band punk band X. Spheeris recalls what it was like working with live-wire personalities like the Germs’ Darby Crash and how she corralled the concert performances that provide the film’s spine.
The vibe is more hedonistic in “The Decline of Western Civilization Part II” (1988), which highlights metal and hair-metal bands like Alice Cooper, Motorhead, Poison, L.A. Guns, Kiss and W.A.S.P. Spheeris recounts setting up signature interview scenes with Kiss’ Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons and reveals what really happened at the pool-side, vodka-drenched encounter with Chris Holmes of W.A.S.P.
Spheeris also explains why she considers “The Decline of Western Civilization Part III” 1998) her favorite among all the films she’s made. It focuses less on music and more on the young, troubled fans — many of them homeless — who were dubbed gutter punks.
The podcast also includes a chat with musician-writer-actor John Doe, who is featured in the first “Decline” film with his band X. He is forthright about his concerns that initial installment was too narrow in its portrayal of the L.A. scene at the time.
You can listen below or via iTunes.
Watch the trailer for ‘The Decline of Western Civilization’
Watch the trailer for ‘The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years’
Watch the trailer for ‘The Decline of Western Civilization Part III’