Docpoint – Helsinki Documentary Film Festival


The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years

A confused, defiant man lies on a float in a pool and drinks booze. His mother sits on the edge of the pool and does not comment much, only just to say that she doesn’t want to think about her son’s sexual escapades. The man is a successful metal musician, Chris Holmes of the band W.A.S.P. During the interview, he brags about his achievements, drinks from the bottle, and pours liqueur on his face. He says that he is an alcoholic and a piece of shit.

The scene is the most intense in Penelope Spheeris’ 1988 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years. It is a highlight in a documentary that is full of them. 

The film’s subject is the Los Angeles hair metal scene in the 80s and metal music more broadly. Familiar and unfamiliar artists speak bafflingly openly about booze, sex, success, hunger, and other things that come with their way of life.

Many of the rockers talk about women in very misogynistic ways. At the same time, it becomes clear that some of them are practically sex workers who make their living by being paid for sex by their female fans.

Among the most famous artists and bands performing in the film are Megadeth, Aerosmith, Motörhead, Alice Cooper, and Ozzy Osbourne. Still, the most interesting are the less successful musicians, whose songs are often difficult and challenging, while the musicians paradoxically seem like beautiful airheads. 

Juhana Pettersson (translated by Inari Ylinen)

Language: English
Subtitles: No subtitles
Length: 93 min
Age Limit: K16
Year: 1988
Production Country: United States

Director: Penelope Spheeris
Producer: Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris, Guy J. Louthan
Editing: Earl Ghaffari
Cinematographer: Jeff Zimmerman