The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years — a documentary review

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I may have seen parts of the documentary on television before. Parts of it seem very familiar.

I am familiar with director Penelope Spheeris. She directed two comedy movies I liked a lot: Wayne’s World and the Chris Farley/David Spade Black Sheep. Spheeris also directed the “Bohemian Rhapsody” music video for Wayne’s World. The rumor is that she had a falling out with Mike Myers, which is why she didn’t direct the sequel. The sequel isn’t as good either. We can’t be certain that Spheeris deserves the credit for the difference.

She also directed Part I of this documentary series, about the punk rock scene during 1979-80, and a Part III about homeless teenagers in the late 1990s. I haven’t watched those. I probably never will. I watched this documentary on Amazon Video because I was interested in the subject matter. The heavy metal music scene in Los Angeles in the late 1980s was near and dear to my heart.

This 1988 documentary has been blamed by some for the death of glam metal and the rise of thrash and grunge. Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, one of the artists interviewed in this film, made similar claims in his autobiography. Since Spheeris also wrote the liner notes for Megadeth’s greatest-hits collection Back to the Start, I don’t think the comment was made as an insult to the director. The documentary shows a lot of wretched excess and misogyny of the LA metal scene at the time, and doesn’t always paint the musicians in the best light.

Some of us believe that it was time for glam metal to die, anyway, to make room for better music.

This documentary features interviews with, and concert footage of, many people I still don’t know. But, we also get Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS, Stephen Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, plus the members of Poison, Faster Pussycat, and W.A.S.P. Riki Rachtman, who was the full-time VJ for MTV’s Headbangers Ball from 1990-1995, back when MTV actually was Music Television, also appears, as co-owner of the Cathouse Club in LA.

This documentary won’t make you a metal fan if you’re not one already. It is interesting from a sociological and historical aspect as well though. 1988 was over three decades ago now, which is a sobering fact for those of us who lived that time, and, like some of the artists interviewed in the doc, perhaps lived it up as well. It is also fun to see how some of the artists who are still out there performing to make a buck to this day looked so young when this was made. Time is a bitch.

I recommend this with a caveat. You already know whether or not you’re going to like it.

Firewater’s Headbangers-’80s-Flashback Report Card: B

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Spheeris has admitted that much of the Ozzy scene in which he spilled his orange juice was faked. The Chris Holmes, of W.A.S.P., pool scene and the Gene Simmons/Paul Stanley interviews seemed highly staged as well. I appreciate showmanship, but the documentary loses a few points for going too-Hollywood.

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