Home Movies by Decade Movies - 1980s Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, The (1980)

Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, The (1980)

The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle was Malcolm McLaren‘s self-aggrandizing rewrite of recent history. His beloved Sex Pistols figured only as puppets, with McLaren tugging the strings.

Punk was portrayed not as a movement of working-class kids discovering their own power, but as a tour de force of cultural terrorism perpetrated by the arch-strategist McLaren according to a step-by-step master-plan (example: “How To Manufacture Your Group: Cultivate Hatred, It Is Your Greatest Asset”).


The original script – written by comedy great Johnny Speight – had been conceived as a kind of Carry On Up The Sex Pistols, with Marianne Faithfull slated to play Sid’s mother (they shared the same heroin dealer in real life).

When Roger Ebert and US nudie director Russ Meyer became involved, they pulled out due to lack of funds.

With director Julien Temple brought in to salvage the mess – and three years in the making – money was a constant problem, rewriting the screenplay at every turn and shooting on anything to hand, from 35mm to reel-to-reel video.

With his company, Glitterbest, now administered by the receiver, Malcolm McLaren had to walk away from the movie, leaving Temple in charge.

So as the Pistols story fizzles out (a dispirited Lydon glowering his farewell from San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom in January 1978), we get Sid fooling in Paris while Cook and Jones lark about in Rio with the waste of human tissue that is (was) ex-Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs.

By the time we get to Friggin’ in the Riggin’, the whole Pistols trip has been diluted from potent statement to inane, behind-the-bike-sheds snickering.