Anarchy! The McLaren Westwood Gang
Who knew anarchy could be so dull? Phil Strongman’s documentary aims to cover the history of punk Britain, centred on two of its key figures: Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. What it actually does is present a series of long, rambling interviews and splice it together with incomplete archive material, including some creepy and bizarre interludes with student models that are never really explained.
Strongman begins his film with footage of Spanish anarchist Buenaventura Durruti’s funeral. He then moves on to dramatic zoom-ins on the faces of people we don’t know; to footage of Nazi rallies; to a teenager singing the aria for Madame Butterfly; to some titles in Copperplate Gothic font; to a public service announcement for what to do in a nuclear explosion – all interspersed with discussion about McLaren’s childhood.
If this sounds confusing, be assured that it makes even less sense in context. Strongman must have made his film in Windows Movie Maker, for there would be no other reason why interviewees are subject to such intense colour saturation, or why conversations are broken up by distracting fade in/fade out techniques. At one point, the men are talking about punk catchphrases, and Strongman emphasises just how edgy they were by having graffiti-lettered recreations fly out the screen, while footage of the men is repeated, mirrored, and echoed out dramatically.
It’s hard to overstate just how woefully inept this filmmaking is. Even when the film reaches its supposed focus – talking about McLaren and Westwood’s impact on London culture – it completely marginalises the latter for an excuse to go on, endlessly, about the Sex Pistols. Strongman must have found some McLaren footage deep in YouTube, as he elects to show massive, unbroken segments of him rolling out the most banal anecdotes about his life, all with terrible picture and sound quality.
At over two hours, the content will clearly only appeal to people already familiar with the subject material. Though don’t let this fool you into thinking that Strongman respects his audience: at one point, the men talk about The Rolling Stones, and we cut to a photo of Mick Jagger. A caption at the bottom of the screen reads: “Mick Jagger – semicolon – The Rolling Stones.” If you want punk, then watch Sid & Nancy. Hell, even Peppa Pig has more anarchic spirit than this.
Anarchy! The McLaren Westwood Gang is released in selected cinemas on 16th September 2016.
Watch the trailer for Anarchy! The McLaren Westwood Gang here: