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The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)

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The Los Angeles punk music scene circa 1980 is the focus of this film. With Alice Bag Band, Black Flag, Catholic Discipline, Circle Jerks, Fear, Germs, and X.


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Credited cast:
Alice Bag Band ...
Alice Bag ...
Lead Singer, The Alice Bag Band
Claude Bessey ...
Catholic Discipline / Vocalist
Black Flag ...
Don Bolles ...
Drummer, The Germs
Dinah Cancer ...
'X' - vocals
Circle Jerks ...
Philo Cramer ...
Fear Guitar
Darby Crash ...
Lead Singer, The Germs
'X' - vocals, bassist
Lorna Doom ...
Bassist, The Germs
Fear ...
Frank Gargani ...
Appears as Himself
Bill Gazzarri ...


The Los Angeles punk music scene circa 1980 is the focus of this film. With Alice Bag Band, Black Flag, Catholic Discipline, Circle Jerks, Fear, Germs, and X. Written by Rich Swenson <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Not Rated


Official Sites:



Release Date:

1 July 1981 (USA)  »

Box Office


$100,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

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Did You Know?


After the film was screened in Los Angeles, punk music fans got into so many fights and caused so much trouble that then-L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates wrote the filmmakers a letter asking them not to screen the film again. See more »


References West Side Story (1961) See more »


Shutdown/Annihilation Man
(Crash / Smear)
Performed by The Germs
See more »

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User Reviews

When Something Interesting Briefly Happened in Music
16 January 2008 | by (Vulcan) – See all my reviews

If I assume that you know what this film is about, I am also forced to assume that you've come to this review knowing that you will probably watch it regardless of what I say. If all this rings true - read on - you are likely to find some consonance with at least part of this review. If you're undecided, or not really entirely certain what happened in the late '70s and early '80s in the urban and suburban youth music culture, you should probably read one of the reviews which pretends to be objective instead.

Although I didn't grow up in California, the American punk scene was the first music scene I ever truly lived in. At the height of the hardcore I was immersed in from about 1979-1981 everybody had a band and the only common denominators between bands and indeed members of their audiences were:

* the rejection of conformity

* tolerance and enjoyment of difference

* a desire to have fun - hard and fast

Hairstyles, politics, dislike of authority figures, and violent slam-dancing were not integral to what I experienced, though there were certainly cliques or factions who tended to be intolerant of those who did not dress, speak or act "punk" enough. And there was often a certain amount of unearned credit extended from some of these cliques to those who tried really hard to live down to the fascistic paradigm of anarchic, self mutilating, angry young cop-haters.

Although the interviews with audience punks in Penelope Spheeris' excellent Cal-Punk documentary "Decline of Western Civilization" present a very narrow view of the subculture some of us enjoyed, the interviews with the bands, club owners, promoters and even the security people are much more representative of at least my own perspective and memories of 'the scene'. nevertheless, it is possible for those who approach this with prejudices about what punk is to experience this film without having their preconceptions challenged. Unfortunate as this is, the blame for it rests solely with those who promote, believe in or feel comfortable with stereotypes - Not the film-makers. Don't blame the messenger.

The music presented here is not going to be for everybody - nor even most. It's not the most crude stuff out there, but it's loud, obnoxious, fast, and less concerned with technique than with raw energy.

For me, seeing early Black Flag with Ron Reyes singing, X, Fear and the Circle Jerks was worth far more than the cost of this hard to obtain film. As much as I like The Germs, seeing Darby Crash for the mess - and the nice guy - that he was left me a bit cold. Nevertheless, the scenes of Darby playing with his pet tarantula while "Shut Down" droned on and on in the background were precious. The X interview is also great.

Spheeris' straightforward documentary style is supplemented by wild pans and zooms during the musical segments. During the interviews, framing is used very nicely to provide context for whatever is being said. Considering her experience and the budget, Spheeris did as well as anybody could have with this film.

Recommended for those who appreciate what this film is actually about, and for those who have forgotten those few years of fun, honest, direction-less rebellion before Amaerican punk was co-opted into yet another flow within the musical mainstream and the stereotypes became more important than the basic philosophy.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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