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Film / The Decline of Western Civilization

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The Decline of Western Civilization is a 1981 film directed by Penelope Spheeris.

It is a documentary of the Los Angeles punk rock scene in 1979-80. Spheeris interviewed several bands that were well known among punk rock fans of the era, including Alice Bag Band, Black Flag, Catholic Discipline, Circle Jerks, Fear, X, and The Germs. Also interviewed are other people involved with punk rock in L.A., like club owners, fans, the staff of alternative music magazine Slash, and the put-upon manager of The Germs. The film also features extensive footage of all the above bands in concert.

Spheeris eventually followed this film up with The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, which was about the heavy metal scene and featured bigger names like Ozzy Osbourne, and The Decline of Western Civilization Part III, in which music took a backseat to document the lives of homeless L.A. teens.


Darby Crash, lead singer of The Germs, killed himself via intentional heroin overdose before this film was released. Pat Smear, referred to only as "Pat" and a guitarist for The Germs, hit it big nearly 15 years after the events of this movie when he became a touring/live guitarist for Nirvana.


  • Cool Old Guy/Cool Old Lady: The white-haired owners of an L.A. music club that talk about how punk rock is a natural way for young people to let out their energy.
    "In my day we ate goldfish."
  • Deliberately Monochrome: While most of the film is in color, the segment where punk musicians and punk fans talk about the aggression and violence that punk releases in concert crowds is shot monochrome, with a vaguely bluish tint.
  • Doing It for the Art: In-Universe with a Black Flag guitarist who says that when he subtracts various expenses from the meager pay he gets as part of a band, he's actually losing money every month.
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  • Dreadful Musician: The manager for The Germs admits that in the beginning they didn't really know how to play their instruments. With the exception of Pat Smear, they haven't gotten much better.
  • Indecipherable Lyrics: Singers bellowing lyrics at the top of their lungs and at extremely rapid pace lead to this. Darby Crash of The Germs, who is usually "loaded" onstage, is the worst, but several singers have subtitles onscreen.
  • Rockumentary: L.A. punk rock.
  • Round Hippie Shades: The club owner who gives a careful lecture about how the rapid beat of punk makes conventional dancing impossible is wearing a pair of Lennon Specs.
  • Take That, Audience!: Lee Ving, front man for Fear, seems to love for this. When "What a bunch of ugly fuckin' faces" doesn't get them riled up enough, he resorts to homophobic slurs, calling them all "fags". This gets them pissed, and a couple fans come onstage to fight.
  • Talking Heads: Everybody is interviewed in standard talking head documentary style. We also see them in more candid moments, like when Darby Crash is frying bacon and eggs for breakfast.
  • Unusual Pets for Unusual People: Darby Crash, the punk rock singer, keeps a pet tarantula.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Pat Smear, with a guileless smile on his face, says "I’d probably hit lots of girls in the face. I don’t like girls very much."

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