Suddenly, Johnny Rotten — the snarling godfather of British punk — finds himself back in the sickly glow of the pop limelight. The former Sex Pistols frontman (a.k.a. John Lydon) is hosting a new show on VH1, ”Rotten TV,” and is promoting ”The Filth and the Fury,” director Julien Temple’s upcoming documentary (opening in March) about the rise and fall of the Sex Pistols. EW senior writer Jeff Gordinier spoke with Rotten and Temple about their new film.
You seem uncharacteristically happy about ”The Filth and the Fury.”
Rotten I love it. Julien is damn fine at his job, and I’m pleased as punch. It’s the truth.
Oddly, though, Julien directed 1979’s ”The Great Rock & Roll Swindle.”
Rotten A film I loathe, hate, and despise.
Temple I’ll never live that down.
Right. So isn’t it weird that you went back to Julien to do ”Filth”?
Rotten No, no, no. We’ve known each other for years and years. It doesn’t contradict anything at all. I mean, he also made ”Absolute Beginners,” so I thought I’ve got to give the guy a break.
”Filth” has rare live footage of the Pistols in their heyday, along with a lost interview with the late Sid Vicious. Where did you find it?
Temple You go to this vault in England where the film is stored, and it’s like Kafka’s corridors — all neatly stacked British films, from Hitchcock to James Bond. But the old ”Rock & Roll Swindle” stuff was just dumped on the floor. They couldn’t even be bothered to file the f—ing thing. There was rotting film everywhere, coming out of these cans.
Rotten Even the rats had moved out.
What was your goal with ”Filth”?
Rotten For 20 years our life has been rewritten — wrongly and very badly. It becomes intolerable. At some point you have to say: ”Stop. Here is the real deal.” I’ve told the truth constantly, but now it’s on film. Somehow celluloid adds a touch of realism for most Americans. Cellulite adds realism, too.
What were some misconceptions?
Rotten People get the punk ”ethic” completely wrong, quite frankly — by trying to make it out to be something destructive, which it most certainly wasn’t. It was very constructive. We took all the negatives of the world, bunched them together, and attacked them. You can’t get more positive than that.
Pistols drummer Paul Cook doesn’t appear much in ”Filth.” Why not?
Rotten I think a lot of resentments from the past came up on our reunion tour, so he’s distanced himself from the whole thing. He just wants to go back to being a normal bloke. He’s excruciatingly dull, and he works hard at underachieving.
One of the amazing things about ”Filth” is a poignant moment when you actually weep over the death of Sid Vicious.
Rotten I know, people think I don’t have a human side. Well, I do. I mean it. I’m quite despondent about it. Any stupid rock & roll death really hurts, and it hits home.
I must say, you look really healthy.
Rotten I should be. I don’t indulge in the bad things in life. I just consume large amounts of alcohol, which does me a power of good. It’s the Irish in me.