"...if you are a punk fan it is must see TV"

Punk Fans Should Get a Bang Out of Pistol

(071422) Pistol is the mostly entertaining but somewhat defanged biopic miniseries about the Sex Pistols that was based on the bio by the band’s guitarist, Steve Jones, Lonely Boy: Tales of a Sex Pistol (which I reread for this review). The show recently premiered on Hulu/FX, and it is streaming there exclusively.

Pistol fails to completely capture the anarchic chaos surrounding the punk era and scene. This was captured better in both The Filth and the Fury doc as well as in the more fictionalized Sid and Nancy. Perhaps the director should have used a more de-centering directing style or off kilter angles to match the out of control aspects of the story. But the miniseries still manages to be both fascinating and watch able most of the time, and if you are a punk fan it is must see TV.

Pistol was directed by the exceptionally talented film maker, Danny Boyle who also made
Slumdog Millionaire, 28 Days Later, Yesterday, Trainspotting, and my favorite of the bunch, Croupier, which I picked as one of the top five films of that year. The miniseries while impressive does not rise to the level of Boyle’s best work.

The aspect that will disappoint the band’s hardcore fans the most is that since this is Steve’s story, the two most interesting and well-known characters (Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious) do not show up right away. Johnny Rotten does not show up until the second episode and Vicious comes in on the 4rth.

The cast varies from competent to superb. Toby Wallace is decent in the lead as Steve Jones. Wallace plays the part as if Jones isn’t always smart enough to fully understand the significance of his own band. Thomas Brodie is a standout as the loveable/hate able McLaren who both elevated and preyed up on the band, but he looks a bit too young for the part. Anson Boon is a good Johnny Rotten and he does capture some his seething intelligence, stage moves, and sneering vocal and speaking style.

The women’s roles are more prominent than the ones in most punk flicks. Tallulah Riley-Milburn gives one of the best performances as the smart, hip clothing designer, Vivienne Westwood who co-manages the clothing shop where all the Pistols frequent while Emma Appleton brings out the tragic side of the disturbed Nancy Spungen. Sydney Chandler gives one of the freshest and most likeable performances as the young future Pretender, Chrissie Hynde.

The film chronologically follows Jones’s life up until the dissolution of the Pistols but it leaves out everything in the novel after that including his work in the Professionals and Chequered Past. When the novel and film start out, Jones is depicted as a troubled teen. He was a kleptomaniac and nymphomaniac who was disrespected by his dad and molested by a relative.

Jones was actually the one who started the Pistols (or at least the band became the Pistols.) He stole instruments from David Bowie and others and eventually got curious and started to play them with some encouragement from Chrissie Hynde and Malcolm McLaren. A big moment is when his later manager, McLaurin gave him a guitar from his hero, Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls, who he and most true punks idolized (McLaren had briefly managed them.) which was a great Inspiration. This part was left out of the other Pistols films.

Jones originally was the vocalist but after a disastrous first concert in which Jones refused to sing, others auditioned to do the vocals. Malcolm was impressed by the look and charisma of a regular at his store Sex, Johnny Lydon, who is later rechristened Johnny Rotten because of the sad state of his teeth. Lydon loved a pair of shoes that he could not afford and McLaren said he would give him the shoes if he auditioned for the band. Malcolm was impressed when Rotten sang Alice Cooper’s classic “I’m Eighteen,” Malcolm said, “he took the piss out of it” and history was made.

The band becomes phenomenally popular overnight and jumped over the other punk bands in terms of popularity because of a series of controversial publicity stunts and disruptive accidental happenings. They became instantly notorious when they appeared drunk and swore on the Bill Grundy show and grabbed all the national headlines making many people under 20 love them. Another highlight in the film depicts the Queen’s Jubilee incident in which the band followed the Queen’s ship and sang songs against her and the British establishment until they were arrested.

The last and most interesting part of the film depicts the band spiraling out of control and inevitably breaking up. The cause for this was largely, the bass player, Sid’s increasing uselessness due to his heroin addiction which caused him to miss the recording session for their one album. Some scenes reveal much about Sid’s masochistic tendencies. Sid starts a fight that he is bound to lose with the much stronger Steve who eventually gets the better of him and pummels him. When Jones shows surprised that Sid is pleased, he explains that he would rather that people fight against him than ignore him. Sid’s junkie girlfriend, Nancy even tells Steve, “Sid is only happy when someone is kicking the shit out of him.”

The film is more female friendly than most other punk films and does more to bring out the importance of women like Vivienne West, Chrissie Hynde, and Siouxsie Siouxsie in the early punk movement. It also provides a more sympathetic view of Nancy Spungen who was depicted as highly disturbed, and mentally ill.

One of the biggest changes from the book to the novel is that Chrissie Hynde is a major character in the film whereas she was a minor one in the novel. Hynde was an employee at the Sex clothing shop and desperately wanted to be in one of the emerging punk bands; she hung around and played with The Clash, Sex Pistols and Damned. Although she played better than many of the musicians that ended up in the punk groups, she ended up having to start her own band, the Pretenders who were more financially successful than all the punk bands. The film implies that that she was initially passed over because of sexism. There might be some truth in this but it might also be because her style, look and attitude did not mesh with the bands.

There is no one definitive version of the Sex Pistols story, but this film does a reasonably good job of giving Jones’ perspective on the whole situation. Lovers of rock history, and punk in particular, should get a bang out of Pistol.

Directed by:     Danny Boyle
 Written  by:    Craig Pearce, based on "Lonely Boy: Tales of a
 Sex Pistol" by Steve Jones
Starring:    Toby Wallace, Anston Boon, Louis Partridge
Released:    05/31/22-all episodes released
Length:    Six episodes, approximately 45- 56 minutes each
Rating:    Unrated but includes sexual references, violence,
 and profanity
Available On:     Hulu/FX

See Great Italian Horror films at the Giallo Film Festival with Giallo themed art show at FACETS:

1517 W Fullerton Ave, Chicago, IL 60614!

GIALLO GELATO starts at 2pm on Sat, July 30th! Tickets and details are here:


 Join Stephanie Sack from the Secret Cinema School for the sweetest horror ice cream film event.

Giallo Gelato screening schedule:
THE PSYCHIC (1977) – 3:00 PM

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

PISTOL  © 2022 Hulu
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2023 Alternate Reality, Inc.



"The Automat"