There are many who will not like this film. Wait, I should rephrase that as I am not cognizant of other people’s tastes. What I should say is that I can see why the film would be disliked. It is a largely formless affair with some detestable characters and no real compass or ideas to keep it moving. Yet that’s all part of the point-this is a film about the punk rock aesthetic. That was a movement founded on detestable characters or ideas to keep it moving. Just the gospel of destruction and anarchy. Can I really fault a film that seeks to capture that ethic and actually succeeds in doing so?
No, because, like the punk rock albums of the time period, the film is still a flawed masterpiece that contains memorable people and scathingly funny set pieces.
The film’s plot-oh what am I doing? This film has no plot. It is set up and punchline-what? You still insist? Alright; during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, she makes a wish to one of her advisers (Richard O’Brien, the Rocky Horror creator) that he summon an angel so she can see her kingdom in the future. He does so and they visit a parallel Great Britain in which Queen Elizabeth II has been murdered, Dorset has been closed off from the rest of the nation by a group of fascists, and the rest of Great Britain seem to be ruled punk rockers. Central in this world are a group lead by the pseudo philosopher Amyl Nitrate, the pyromaniac Mad, the sex addict Crabs, and the wanna be rock star Kid (Adam Ant). They all work for the new, literal, king of the media known as Borgia Ginz (credited only as Orlando) and….and nothing. This is the punchline-we merely observe how they live their lives in this diseased London.
I did say that the characters were repulsive, but none of them are unforgettable in the same way Sid Vicious was not unforgettable. They exist as creatures of pure id, doing whatever action crosses their mind. They are sort of proto Jokers-I would not be surprised if Heath Ledger viewed this film in preparation for the role. Maybe that’s why I found the film so strangely compelling-they are what humans would be without a conscience.
But that is not enough to make a great film. Many poor films have worthwhile characters. But this film-ok ok, honestly that’s all it has. I am almost at a loss to review it as I would normally discuss pacing and plot. This seems to defy both of this-but strangely, I found myself becoming immersed in the spectacle. Usually films forgo traditional plot and synopsis because they have nothing relevant to say. This, however, is a kinetic film that finds plenty to say, not only about the British world but even some critiques of the punk rock movement.
Yes, a large section of the film is about how the glory of England was gone but there was hope of it coming back. Hence the presence of Queen Elizabeth to wax poetic of the destruction. Ariel gives advice about understanding diversity that the punks promptly ignore. In the end, the only way to find solace is to go to a place where “Blacks, Jews, Homosexuals” and Elvis records have been banned. A commentary on the rise of the conservative party? I am not sure, but it at least says something about the punk rock movement. More poignant is Ginz’s constant quote of how “they all sign up in the end.” The whole idea behind the movement was a do it yourself aesthetic that allowed anyone to spread their message no matter how irrelevant or dangerous it was. The point was to keep it as a do it yourself mentality with no outside interference.
Once it became popular, of course there would be interference. Once it became popular, the commercial aspect is impossible to ignore. Five years after the movie had come out, punk was effectively gone. The film seems very prescient of all this information. Frankly, that demonstrates a power not many films have. And that, I suppose, is where my praise ultimately comes from.