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The Public Image Is Rotten

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"The Public Image is Rotten" is a thoughtful and thorough look at the band PiL and the brainchild behind it, John Lydon aka Johnny Rotten. While Lydon is clearly the band's driving force, his commentary throughout the film, both vintage and recent, makes it known that he thinks of PiL as a group effort. Those who think they know Lydon from his Sex Pistols days may be surprised at how thoughtful and well-spoken he is; he is not now nor was he ever someone to be arbitrarily dismissed as merely a "punk." Perhaps the naming of PiL, which stands for Public Image Limited, is a wry shot at the misconception. The filmmakers take the viewer through Lydon's early days when he had meningitis, a malady that ultimately put him in a coma and that caused him to lose his memory when he came out of it. In current day footage Lydon explains that if you see him spitting on stage it is not a bit of punky rebellion; it is a remnant of the meningitis that messes with his throat (he keeps what he calls a spittoon handy in his home.) Through all the craziness that goes with being in many bands like lineup changes, getting ripped off, bad shows and the like, Lydon is shown to never have lost his vision for PiL, and today the band has a lineup that hasn't changed for 15-years, and John notes that it is the first time he's ever really been happy making music. Of course the film includes amusing moments, like Lydon's appearance on late night TV with Tom Snyder in 1980 where Snyder seemed adamant that he was going to butt heads with the singer, but Lydon wouldn't bite. The pair have an on-air reunion of sorts 17-years later and at that point Snyder seems to have gotten a clue. There are sad moments, like Lydon recalling the death of Sex Pistols mate Sid Vicious, and there is plenty of melancholia too. Directed by Tabbert Fiiller and with commentary from former and current PiL members as well as stars like Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys and Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, the film is fast moving and riveting. The end result is that the viewing of the movie will likely enhance the subsequent experience of listening to PiL's music for most fans as well as give them the feeling that they're a little closer to knowing Lydon. All through the film Lydon says he always strives to state the truth and you'll find it here by the bucketful.

The Public Image Is Rotten

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