THE PUBLIC IMAGE IS ROTTEN – Documentary

Posted: January 16, 2023 in MUSIC

Acclaimed PiL documentary “The Public Image is Rotten“, After the breakup of the Sex Pistols, John Lydon / Johnny Rotten, formed Public Image Ltd (PiL)– his groundbreaking band which has lived on nearly 15 times as long as his first one. He kept the band alive ever since, through personnel and stylistic changes, fighting to constantly reinvent new ways of approaching music, while adhering to radical ideals of artistic integrity. John Lydon has not only redefined music, but also the true meaning of originality. Former and current bandmates, as well as fellow icons like Flea, Ad-Rock and Thurston Moore, add testimony to electrifying archival footage (including stills and audio from the infamous Ritz Show).

With his trademark acerbic wit and unpredictable candor, Lydon offers a behind-the-scenes look at one of music’s most influential and controversial careers.

Julien Temple’s “The Filth And The Fury” previously explained why seminal punks Sex Pistols still matter, but the in-depth PiL documentary “The Public Image Is Rotten” examines how John Lydon’s second band, Public Image Ltd, also influenced successive generations of future-shaping rock’n’roll acts.

Directed by Tabbert Fiiller (Cesar Chavez, The Activist) and produced by Abramorama, “The Public Image Is Rotten” delves deep into the iconic post-punk outfit’s history as they celebrate their 40th anniversary. The PiL documentary first premiered in London, on 3rd June, to coincide with the release of a multi-disc 5CD+2DVD box set of the same name, which includes a wealth of rare and previously unreleased material.

Presented chronologically, “The Public Image Is Rotten” picks up Lydon’s story from Sex Pistols’ split, in early 1978, and traces the fascinating – if irregular – arc of PiL’s career, from their inception in the spring of ’78 through to the present day.

The director has left precious few stones unturned. He’s been granted access to the band’s archive, so long-term fans will be thrilled to encounter reams of previously unseen footage, ranging from PiL’s very first gig in Brussels (December ’78), through to rarely-seen Top Of The Pops and Old Grey Whistle Test performances.

Additionally, the PiL documentary presents new (and extremely candid) interviews with band members both past and present. Securing commentary from Lydon’s original PiL bandmates Keith Levene, Jah Wobble and drummer Jim Walker is an especially notable coup, but Fiiller also captures valuable insight from PiL insiders/acolytes including music journalist Vivian Goldman and original Roxy Club DJ/filmmaker Don Letts. Alt.rock luminaries touched by the hand of PiL, such as MobyBeastie BoysAdam Horovitz and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore have their say too, with Moore astutely noting that the band’s legendary debut single, ‘Public Image’, was the song “that really changed the landscape after punk”.

To the director’s immense credit, “The Public Image Is Rotten” also lingers long on the making of all PiL’s landmark albums. We discover how Lydon and company somehow channelled chaotic, nocturnal sessions at Richard Branson’s rural Manor Studio into the otherworldly “Metal Box”; get the inside track on 1981’s left-field masterpiece “Flowers Of Romance” from producer Nick Launay and long-term drummer Martin Atkins; and marvel as John Lydon gleefully recalls recording “Album” with an all-star cast including Bill Laswell, Steve Vai and legendary Cream drummer Ginger Baker.

Inevitably, Lydon is the film’s dominant presence, as large chunks of “The Public Image Is Rotten” derive from new interviews shot in the singer’s kitchen and living room in LA. These segments make for mesmerising viewing, with Lydon visibly moved while recalling his potentially life-threatening bout of meningitis during his childhood, yet quickly regaining his natural defiance when discussing Sex Pistols’ messy implosion and even the implausible Country Life butter ads which helped bankroll PiL’s second life after the band’s lengthy hiatus during the 90s and early 00s.

A sizeable cut above the average rock doc, “The Public Image Is Rotten” stakes its claim as both a highly absorbing tribute to one of rock’s most uncompromising bands and a finely-drawn portrait of a singular frontman who, in his own words, remains “one of the very few people in pop history who will not go away”.

The Public Image Is Rotten (Songs From The Heart) box set available now

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