Download A Stylized Retelling of the Sex Pistols’ Story Movie Download
When the punk rock band Sex Pistols stormed onto the British music scene, they forever changed the music world. Though their run only lasted from 1975 to 1978 initially, they helped kickstart the punk movement in the United Kingdom, and when they took to the stage in Manchester in 1974, they inspired an entire generation of upcoming bands. Without Sex Pistols, there would be no Joy Division or The Smiths. Their influence bleeds far and wide in contemporary punk culture, too, and many bands, including Green Day, can trace their artistic origins back to this one band.
Even though the Sex Pistols were notorious for being on the short end of the law, their enduring legacy showed the potential of what punk could and will be, even if it did not reach mainstream audiences. While it can be argued that punk today is more mainstream than ever, blurring across national borders, socioeconomic classes, and politics, renewed interest in the Sex Pistols shows how timeless their ideologies were. And it is that that helped create FX’s newest miniseries: Pistol.
Craig Pearce, who previously worked with the screenplays of movies like Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge!, The Great Gatsby, and the upcoming Elvis movie, wrote and created the premise behind Pistol. The series was officially ordered in January 2021 with director Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Trainspotting) slated to direct all six episodes for the miniseries. Australian actor Toby Wallace (The Society, Babyteeth) was cast in the lead role as Pistols’ drummer Steve Jones. Other notable names in the series include Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (The Queen’s Gambit), Talulah Riley (Westworld), and Iris Law (Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore).
However, Pistol’s creation did not come without controversy, as the frontman of the Sex Pistols, John Lydon, legally went after his former bandmates to try and stop the Sex Pistols’ music from being included in the show. The court ordered in favor of his bandmates. It is not Lydon that is the focus of this miniseries, as it is based on Steve Jones’ experiences in the band and their rise to fame. Even after the Sex Pistols’ time came to a close, Jones became active in Hollywood, making appearances on television and late-night talk shows, and hosting his radio show.
An Origin Story
Pistol establishes itself as a distant memory from the get-go: a montage of footage from the 1970s sets the stage for the United Kingdom at the time. From riots to music and notable buildings collapsing, London in during this time is already set up as moments of chaos. Even the camerawork seeps in these feelings and moments of nostalgia: the lighting has a gritty but dreamlike quality to it, and the screen ratio is calibrated to make each scene come across as an older photograph told in a series of connected vignettes.
The opening scenes may lay a foundation for what the Sex Pistols may become, but the actual story begins with their humble origins. They are a group of young men given a rehearsal space by one of their dads, and their snarky commentary is on-brand for their age. “We’re going to be famous,” Jones reiterates again and again to an unamused audience that does not initially believe him, setting this up to be a satisfying rise to fame, but it is the outcast of societies, like the workers at Vivienne Westwood’s boutique SEX that encourage his career.
The band, known as The Swankers at this time, does not have much to offer artistically, but the current lead singer, Steve Jones, has enough passion to get the entire band through this small bump. In daring acts, he steals from local music venues to get access to microphones and amps, but like many wannabe future punk stars, he is eventually caught and thrown into jail. It seems like the societal expectation of him has been fulfilled at this moment, as a delinquent product of an abusive stepfather and the realms of public anarchy. Jail proves to be a pivotal life-changing moment, but not in the way one would think it would. Vivienne Westwood’s partner, Malcolm (portrayed here by Thomas Brodie-Sangster), bails him out and becomes the manager of The Swankers. The rest, from there, is history.
Highly Stylized Editing
Pistol has its own defining style, but it transitions from wanting to feel like a biographical drama to almost feeling like a documentary at times. Moments filmed in real-time are starkly contrasted against the historical footage of what the characters are talking about, or a pan of a London street oscillates back and forth between past and present. This can be fairly disorienting, losing focus on the actual story unfolding. From a technical standpoint, it is well done, but for the story, it drags away from the world created and tries to ground it too much in reality and forceful exposition.
Another critical issue the miniseries faces is that it does not feel like a biographical drama; it feels more like a theatrical production. As Brodie-Sangster’s Malcolm makes a dramatic speech to Westwood about how he wants a band full of assassins and anarchists, it feels forced. This, unfortunately, is not a unique circumstance. The other characters also fall victim to this, as some of the more well-known members of the band, like Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten, exist outside of Steve’s core hero narrative. At the same time, punk culture, here, is depicted as largely a man’s show.
That makes sense, as the series has been created around Steve’s mind, which would bring in a more masculine perspective to how the punk scene went down. Designer Vivienne Westwood (Talulah Riley) is banished to the fringes of a man’s world, a fate also seen by Maisie William’s Jordan and Sydney Chandler’s Chrissie Hynde. Other characters are delegated simply as love interests, existing solely for the romantic male gaze until they are deemed unnecessary, delegating them to disappear from the story completely.
The punk rock movement had many notable women at its forefront. It is odd to show how well-connected this world was in London and then cast its women off to the side until they are convenient to explain something or are pivotal to a man’s story. Without Westwood, there would not be a shop where everyone would meet. Without Hynde, there would be no guitar lessons.
A Lost Legacy
Pistol evokes the emotions and sensations of the era through its images, successfully recreating the youthfulness and feelings that led to why the Sex Pistols were so popular. It can be disorienting, almost dizzying, but that is what it must have been like to be involved with the band at this time. During the historical footage of concerts, the camera shows both the band and audience at a close distance, creating intense flashes where it seems like everyone is a part of this collective rage.
That is where the miniseries succeeds: it makes the point that the subculture was thriving on that rage. The youths were fed up and wanted to make a difference in the world, and this is embodied through Steve’s story. With a fleshed-out background full of trauma, it makes sense why he has so much anger. At the same time, Malcolm comes across as someone highly aware of this fact in the current culture, thus leading him to push his agenda with the Sex Pistols.
However, Pistol fails to distinguish itself outside of its snazzy storytelling. Its choice to use another member of the band, not the frontman, marks it as a different way of telling the band’s story. But outside of Steve’s core narrative, it feels too fragmented, the other characters becoming more like props. By the end of the six episodes, it begins to drag, although its story is fairly honest—Jones consulted on the series, adding an element of authenticity to his character. Others, however, seem to have stayed farther away from the series production.
Pistol may be authentic, but on a superficial level, it does not answer any questions about the legacy the band left behind. And maybe that is on purpose, as it is now 2022, and a miniseries about the Sex Pistols is still created with quite a bit of interest. A band full of working-class kids that want to make a difference in the world did eventually do what they set out to do originally, but there are broader lessons in their story. These lessons are lost in the increasing tempo of the music and the thrill of an audience, even if they are still applicable today.
All six episodes of Pistol can be streamed on either Hulu or Disney+/Star, based on one’s region, as of May 31, 2022.