Synopsis by Judd Blaise
The performers, attitudes, and music of late '70s, early '80s Los Angeles punk scene are documented in this film by director Penelope Spheeris. Not merely a compilation of concert footage, The Decline of Western Civilization compiles numerous viewpoints on the meanings of the punk movement, from journalists -- one of whom calls punk the folk music of the 1980s -- to club security guards, to the punks themselves. The center of the film, however, is the music, which is fast, loud, and abrasive and often played with purposeful ineptitude; the lyrics are intentionally controversial and shocking, often seeming to embrace violence, sexism, racism, and even Nazism, though usually in an ironic manner. The performances, by bands such as Black Flag, X, The Circle Jerks, and Fear, are mostly shot from within the audience, where the camera often becomes an unwitting participant in the crowd's slam dancing. Especially fascinating are the performances by The Germs, thanks to the antics of their violently self-destructive lead singer Darby Crash, who would later die of a drug overdose and gain a martyr status within the punk community. The film was followed several years later by a sequel focusing on the world of heavy metal.