The Decline of Western Civilization Part II, The Metal Years


Today on Network Awesome (warning: video auto-plays!), Heavy Metal Week continues with the classic documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II, The Metal Years. Directed by Penelope Spheeris (who later directed Wayne's World), the film has been bootlegged for decades, and to my knowledge was never released on DVD. Today you can see the whole thing on YouTube.

The documentary features interviews with members of Aerosmith, Kiss, Megadeth, Poison, Motörhead, W.A.S.P, plus interviews with Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper...among others.

Decline is packed full of interviews with major heavy metal stars (Aerosmith, Kiss, Megadeth, Poison, Motörhead, W.A.S.P, plus Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper), as well as wannabe metal stars and metal fans. The most notable interview is the infamous "pool scene" in which W.A.S.P. guitarist Chris Holmes guzzles vodka while floating aimlessly in a swimming pool. Holmes declares himself "a full-blown alcoholic" and "a piece of crap" and discusses how he'll probably be dead within a decade, as his mother looks on from the side of the pool. It's a devastating interview that serves as the emotional core of the film, and it comes in the middle of a series of interviews that veer from light to dark with great skill. (Some have claimed that Holmes actually filled the vodka bottles with water -- this seems credible given the amount of liquor he appears to chug -- but regardless, the interview stands as a remarkably poignant moment in the film and it's clear that the man is utterly wasted.) At its heart, Decline is about the disconnect between image and reality -- and the heavy metal image of 1988 covered a series of devastating realities that are slowly disclosed as the film proceeds. As Holmes says: "I don't dig being the person I am."

In addition to the Holmes interview, there's a terrific sequence (starting about 48 minutes in) in which Ozzy Osbourne cooks breakfast and offers surprisingly cogent advice about being a professional musician. The sequence starts with Ozzy cracking a few eggs into a dish, his fingers tattooed and laden with rings, and his pack of Marlboros to the side. Osbourne is honest and clever in the interview, and admits that if he hadn't become a rock star, he'd probably be in prison. He goes on to explain the mistakes he made (both personally and in business), and says: "It's hard bloody work, and you've got to be a businessman. And I'm not a businessman, you know! I'm very fortunate to this day, you know, that my wife is my manager, you know, she knows the business, but I don't know the business side of rock and roll. I don't want to know it, either." The interviews with Alice Cooper and Dave Mustaine are more insightful (though not quite as funny), and it's clear that most of the men who have been in the business for a while have survived through a combination of wits and serious intestinal fortitude.

Warning: this movie is full of expletives, it's rated R, and there are some scenes of scantily clad ladies. As such it's NSFW, but I strongly recommend it for fans of documentary film and/or 80's metal. It is NOT for kids. The actual video is after the jump for all these reasons.

If you enjoy the film and want to know more, check out the A.V. Club interview with Spheeris or Janet Maslin's review from The New York Times, which includes this gem:

In Miss Spheeris's earlier hell-in-a-handbasket documentary, the original "Decline of Western Civilization" about punk rockers, the brainpower quotient was somewhat higher than it is among heavy-metal fans. That's one reason that the new film is both so funny and so sad. For all the amusingly fatuous remarks heard here -- and Miss Spheeris has a great ear for these -- the overriding dimness of most of the fans and musicians is frightening. The women are happy to be exploited, the men avid for new forms of self-destruction, and no one can see an inch beyond tomorrow.

That pretty well sums it up.