The Decline of Western Civilization

Penelope Spheeris is best known as the director of 1992 cult comedy Wayne’s World, but years earlier she was a pioneer of the music documentary with her study of the West Coast punk movement. 40 years on since the filming of ‘The Decline of Western Civilization’ it remains the go-to resource for a subculture that was otherwise ignored by the music press at the time of its existence.

Much of the film is set in sweaty LA clubs, where leather-clad rebels express themselves to the violent sounds of aggressive hardcore punk bands. But the film’s heart lies in the behind-the-scenes action: in candid backstage interviews, acts like Black Flag and The Germs shine a light on the squalid living conditions, social marginalization and widespread drug and alcohol abuse that overshadows the progressive nature of the scene.

The film was so controversial upon its release that the Los Angeles Chief of Police demanded that the film not be shown again in the city. But in 2016 it was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, having been deemed culturally and historically significant.

Two sequels were filmed, with the third installment offering a moving insight into the lives of countless so-called “gutter punks” living on the streets of Los Angeles 20 years later.