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The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle [1979]: A Review Of The Film And The Album






When it comes to British Punk Rock movement, Sex Pistols is probably the most famous one even to this day. Why? They shocked everyone with their lyrics and their attitude towards society. Plus, they did lots of publicity stunts which made them became household name in UK. The most memorable one is probably their interview on Bill Grundy’s Today show. Thanks to drunken host, the band went wild on the show and they swore a lot. Next morning, the band appeared on almost every local and national newspaper while Mr. Grundy career was nailed in the coffin.

During band’s popularity, Malcolm McLaren, band’s manager, eagerly wanted to make a film about them, so he contacted Julien Temple, a student who directed a film that was shown before their concert, to write and direct it. Unfortunately, there were lots of problem during production and it took about two years to release it. To me, I consider it as not only a fun and distinctive film, it’s also a mockumentary that later turns out to be a documentary.


So what the film is all about?

It’s supposed to be a mixture between Comedy, Mockumentary, detective films, and musical. The story goes like this: Malcolm McLaren is a manipulator who creates Sex Pistols in order to get cash from record labels and create chaos in public, but that doesn’t stop Steve Jones, a guitarist of the band who somehow becomes detective, who tries to expose him. That’s it. That’s the whole “plot” of the film. It also tells us the story of the band before they were popular until they do barely exist.

But what make this film prominent is the fact that it has interesting narrative. It has animated segments, music videos (including the famous Sid Vicious’ My Way), and live footage of controversy stunts blend with chaotic storyline. This means that we shouldn’t take it too seriously. Another great example of this is how Malcolm Mclaren tells us the secret of Sex Pistols’ successful.


Mr. Mclaren’s Lessons of SP Scheme

There are 10 lessons throughout the movie about how he made the band popular. I’ll tell you later why I think this is a pure documentary instead of tongue-in-cheek joke (as filmmakers intended), but here are what Malcolm told us….

Lesson 1: How To manufacture Your Group

Basically he tells us the story about how he gathered band members with different personality, but they are wild and ready to explode.

Lesson 2: Establish The Name

Next, he sent them to play in controversial places like jailhouse or strip club in order to avoid competition from big record companies and create distinctive look.

Lesson 3: How To Sell The Swindle

He contacted major record companies. Although they clearly hated the band, Sex Pistols were wanted everywhere. To quote Malcolm, “A group that can’t play effects label more than a group that CAN play”. Then signed grand old label like EMI.

Lesson 4: Do not play, do not give the game away

After that, he created chaos in general. He let them appeared on Bill Grundy’s TV show (as I said before). There were protests about how grotesque and evil Sex Pistols was. Then, after EMI released them because they were too hot to handle.

Lesson 5: How To Steal As Much Money As Possible From Record Company

After EMI fired SP, they got new bassist named Sid Vicious and signed contract with A&M Records which also gave them lots of money as well. Immediately after signing in front of Buckingham Palace, they went to the company and wrecked everything, which means that they were free with huge chunk of money again. That’s why Malcolm called this tactic as “Cash From Chaos”.

Lesson 6: How To Become The World’s Greatest Tourist Attraction

They staged another publicity stunt. This time, they decided to play loud music on a boat to mock Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee celebration. Of course, it ended up not so good, but at this point they were at the height of controversy since they released God Save The Queen single few weeks ago.

Lesson 7: Force The Public To Hate You

Malcolm tried to provoke audience by creating confusion like spreading rumors about the band or canceling gigs. Next, the band signed another contract with Warner Bros. for US release.

Lesson 8: N/A

[I try to gather it, but I have no idea what’s it all about. Perhaps another “Cash From Chaos” stuffs]

Lesson 9: Taking Civilization As Barbarian

Sex Pistols went to the first US tour. It was disaster since they fought with audience and Johnny Rotten, lead singer, pissed off with awful management and lots of problems. He left the band immediately after the tour.

Lesson 10: Who Killed Bambi?

By now, Sex Pistols has a new singer named Tenpole Tudor. He gave us awful song named “Who Killed Bambi?”. Seriously, this is shit. If you want good Tenpole song, listen to his single from early 80’s called Swords Of A Thousand Men. That song kick-ass!

But wait, there’s more! The band travels to Brazil to record two songs with infamous criminal named, Ronnie Biggs, who involved in Great Train Robbery and later escaped from prison.


To be honest, Malcolm gave us interesting tips for music marketing (like being distinctive from competitors or knowing who’s the main target group), but his “Cash From Chaos” scheme later turns out to be true! In 1984 Johnny Rotten sued Malcolm for royalty issues. Two years later, the band finally gained control of everything. From album master tapes to rights of this film. This somehow tells us that Malcolm is NOT a good example of how to manage the band. Sure, he was probably not as greedy as this film depicts, but let’s face it…Sex Pistols is just a commercial boyband but has stronger selling points and different target group. They were created just to be a fad. Of course, they were really successful, but in the end they were victims of bad management and, as I said, “Cash From Chaos” scheme.

In conclusion, if you aren’t a fan of them, you should watch this film since it’s really entertaining, funny, and totally different from musical films you’ve seen before. And if you’re fan of Sex Pistols, you must watch it!

Thumbs up!

[Check out the review of soundtrack album in next page!]

About The Author
Nuttawut Permphithak
Nuttawut Permphithak
A student who's studying in marketing. He usually spends his free-time on watching movies, listening to music, reading books, and creating things you're probably reading/listening right now.

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