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Movie-A-Day #22: The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle (1980).

January 22, 2011

Malcolm McLaren, who would have been 65 today, was a visionary, an entrepreneur, a shyster and a hack. Not only was he the svengali behind the Sex Pistols and Bow Wow Wow, he also (along with legendary designer Vivienne Westwood) shaped the look and feel of the punk movement and turned it into big business. He helped bring fetishism and S&M into the mainstream and even had a hit single with the song “Buffalo Gals,” which was instrumental in introducing American hip hop culture to Europe. But as important as he was in shaping late 20th century pop culture and in commodifying underground social movements, he was also a swindler to cheated and lied to his artists, his business partners and his friends. He was a brilliant tangle of contradictions, and those contradictions are out in full force in “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.” It started out as a film project for the Sex Pistols, to be directed by cult filmmaker Russ Meyer from a script by Roger Ebert. But after the Pistols famously flamed out, it evolved into a rambling pseudo-documentary in which McLaren gives his highly biased version of the demise of the band and discusses his business philosophies with a dwarf. The title isn’t a lie – the film is a bit of a swindle itself, but a fascinating and charming one.

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