Condolences to anyone who recently spent a couple hundred dollars to get their hands on a beat-up old rental VHS of the iconic, and famously hard to find, punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization. Penelope Spheeris's whole trilogy of rock docs is at last coming to blu-ray and DVD, thanks to the fine folks at Shout! Factory! For the rest of us, this is a time to celebrate. Decline is rightfully one of the most influential films in its genre, yet has been unavailable for about thirty years due to a mess of music rights, and its two sequels have fared no better. Honestly, it's an absolute shock that the rights issues involved in a re-release could be ironed out at all; I completely believed that Spheeris's film would never see the light of day again.
The original Decline of Western Civilization captures the underground punk scene in L.A. at the end of the 1970s, and is far and away the best document in existence of an era when punk was nowhere near the mainstream, and still something new, explosive, and (in the eyes of Spheeris, anyway) pretty dangerous. The concert footage of bands like X, Black Flag, The Circle Jerks, The Germs, and Fear is absolutely fantastic, and having footage that good of bands so early in the life of the punk scene is a bit of a miracle. Even on the decidedly murky Media Home Entertainment VHS that most of us are used to, the raw, ferocious energy on display is nothing short of spectacular; seeing it in HD with remastered audio will definitely be an experience to look forward to.
Decline II focuses on L.A.'s '80s metal scene, and features Poison, Motorhead, Megadeth, Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, and Kiss. Decline III, which only got very limited self-released distribution, revisits the punk scene in the late-'90s, and focuses on the scene's homelessness problem. I've never actually had a chance to see it, but at least one of the bands included, Naked Aggression, I know is pretty awesome, and far too little-known. Being able to finally see this hardest-to-find entry in the series will be great in itself. The special features will include a bunch more interview and concert footage that has never been available before – hopefully from all three films. Plus, the whole trilogy will feature a commentary by Dave Grohl, who gave us one of the most critically acclaimed music documentaries of recent years with Sound City.
The box set will be out on June 30th.
-Christopher S. Jordan