The Public Image is Rotten (NR)

Documentary 103 min. September 14, 2018
By Ren Jender
The Public Image Is Rotten, Tabbert Fiiller's documentary about Public Image Ltd. (PiL), the band John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) formed after the Sex Pistols, makes one wonder: Does anyone still care? Its interviews are either with aging, fanboy musicians (including Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea, who nearly joined PiL in the ’80s) or with the revolving door of instrumentalists who were in PiL through the decades. Except for some vintage clips and an interview with music journalist Vivien Goldman, the film goes out of its way to ignore women who were part of the punk and post-punk scene. In an aside, we find out the late Ari Up, the lead singer of pioneering punk band The Slits, was Lydon's stepdaughter, but the film makes hardly any other mention of her. Fiiller doesn't bother to interview Viv Albertine either, the Slits guitarist who wrote compellingly about Lydon in her best-selling memoir.

The film is weirdly coy about the band's drug use. And since the film also leaves out sex (as Albertine decidedly did not!), we're left with just plain rock & roll, which includes some unfortunate scenes of Lydon analyzing his own lyrics.

The doc is at its best when it deviates from its party line of Lydon being, deep down, a good guy. (He's not: The film omits reports of his assaulting a female producer and a black musician in separate incidents in 2008.) The loathing for Lydon that radiates from former PiL bassist Jah Wobble is apparent even to those who don't know that after Wobble rejected Lydon's invitation to rejoin PiL, Wobble instead collaborated with former PiL guitarist Keith Levene — and a vocalist from a Sex Pistols cover band.
Tabbert Fiiller John Lydon Abramorama

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