Decline of Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)
Directed by Penelope Spheeris
April 30 at reRun Gastropub Theater's "Beneath the Valley of VHS"
The heavy metal decadence that punk filmmaker Penelope Spheeris highlights in Decline of Civilization Part II: The Metal Years makes the film more docudrama than straight documentary. Spheeris's film is as caricaturishly accurate as Julien Temple's hilariously overripe portrait of the Sex Pistols in The Great Rock and Roll Swindle: both favor grandiose but no less truthful portrayals of rockers who revel in excess. Spheeris (Suburbia, Dudes) and Temple both fully embrace the idea that their subjects are inextricable from their music's self-mythologizing representation of themselves. Spheeris's rockstars imagine that they are macho Adonises of Reagan-era America, making them easier targets and also deceptively more facile subjects.
For her second entry in her docu-something trilogy, Spheeris replaces the stuttering fans, nihilistic bigots and waifish teens of The Decline of Western Civilization: The Punk Years with beer-swilling, groupy-screwing guys who boast about how hard they party, how much they can binge and consequently how popular they are. Gene Simmons jokes about how being a rock star gets him laid more often than any Pope, while Steve Tyler earnestly admonishes kids to have safe sex and wear a rubber. The pitfalls and more glamorous aspects of this happily self-destructive mentality are most hilariously contrasted in staged scenes where Paul Stanley talks about how sweet his life is while lying in bed with blonde groupies, and Ozzy Osborne knocks over a carton of orange juice and complains about sobriety.
It's obvious that Spheeris favors some artists more than others but that salient bias makes The Metal Years that much more rich. For instance, the members of Megadeth are taken more seriously because they are ostetatiously serious about their music. In relatively long and gaffe-free interview segments, the band's members boast about how they don't need makeup and about how their songs aren't about death but rather about "awareness" of one's own mortality.
These interview segments serve as a great promotion for Megadeth and are also a decent way for Spheeris to introduce a canned kind of diversity to her deliberately zany document. But these scenes are also kind of fascinating for revealing unseriously Spheeris expects viewers to take most of those other bands. Brash and combative, Spheeris's film is just as bratty as her subjects. Punk is dead, long live punk.