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For a movie about the underground punk scene, the film’s nearly impossible-to-find status contributed to its cult appeal. The director explains why it hasn’t been legally available until now.
For decades, there were only two ways to watch “The Decline of Western Civilization”: buy a bootleg or download it online. Both are illegal. For a movie about the underground punk scene, the film’s nearly impossible-to-find status contributed to its cult appeal. Like hunting down a rare vinyl record or an out-of-print fanzine, scoring a copy of the 1981 documentary required a rabid degree of dedication in exchange for street cred.
Penelope Spheeris, the film’s director, has a less romantic way of explaining the movie’s thriving underground market: theft. “You know that feeling you get in your stomach that’s like this fluttery kind of fear?” she told Indiewire recently, describing the sensation that would wash over her when she’d stumble across a bootleg copy of “The Decline of Western Civilization,” including the 1988 and 1998 sequels of the same name. “The worst part about it was that they were making really bad copies, that my work looked like shit. And that’s the part also that really upset me.”
After years of what she describes as paralyzing anxiety surrounding the films she considers her life’s most important work, Spheeris finally did something about that queasy feeling in her gut. At the insistence of her daughter, Anna Fox, who has stayed in touch with many of the subjects in her mother’s films, Spheeris undertook an intensive two-year process of digging up and editing archival footage, restoring the movies and shopping for a distributor. Beginning on June 30, all three DVDs will be available in a box set from Shout! Factory. (By Jennifer Swann | Indiewire)
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