D.O.A.: A Right of Passage (1981)

Genres - Music  |   Sub-Genres - Biography  |   Run Time - 93 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Richie Unterberger

Though it's sensationalistic and cinematically sloppy, Lech Kowalski's 90-minute documentary is invaluable at the least for including so much footage of the Sex Pistols on their ill-fated 1978 American tour. It's a tour that was more historic than anyone probably envisioned at the time -- this was, after all, the only time they toured the States with the Sid Vicious lineup, and they'd implode immediately after its finish. Even if neither the camerawork nor the sound are top-notch, you get to see the band doing fierce live versions of classics from their early singles and first album to a quite volatile reception from the Southern clubgoers that comprised their primary audience on the seven-city tour. You also see footage from their final concert in San Francisco, complete with Johnny Rotten's famous concluding remark, "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?" Interviews with members of the audience convey just how strong the reaction was to the group at the time -- quite literally violently negative, less often enthusiastic, and quite often simply uncomprehending and bewildered. Perhaps some might wish that there was more focus on the band and less haphazard cutting to performances in England by other groups, as well as interviews with assorted punk scenemakers. Yet it does give viewers the chance to see more valuable, if again hardly pristine-looking or -sounding, footage of bands like the Clash, Sham 69, X-Ray Spex (doing "Oh Bondage Up Yours!"), the Rich Kids (with ex-Pistols bassist Glen Matlock), and Generation X -- though the scenes with no-hope British punkers Terry and the Idiots aren't as entertaining. The film is also notorious for its extended interview sequences with Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, in which the ultimate doomed punk couple are filmed in their bedroom. With Spungen screeching at Vicious for his failure to keep awake while the interview's actually in process, it's a vivid record of their troubled relationship -- and the film as a whole is an important, if flawed, document of the early punk explosion.