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The Decline of Western Civilization Part III
The first Decline of Western Civilization, filmed by Penelope Spheeris in 1979, spotlighted a thriving L.A. punk scene that blasted out of the box with bands like X, the Germs, and the Circle Jerks; Part II: The Metal Years skewered the bloated excess of the city's '80s glam-metal scene. Part III is an often depressing look at homeless kids living in squats and on the streets of L.A. and Hollywood. Most are homeless (many describe being kicked out of the house or running from abuse or neglect); what little money they make panhandling or "photo spanging" -- cadging spare change by posing for photos with tourists -- goes toward the two things that brighten their otherwise bleak existence: punk rock shows and beer. Though Decline I debuted before most of these kids were born, Spheeris says they trusted her enough after seeing the first film to let her follow them around with a camera and ask them questions that border on the parental. ("When was the last time you had a bath?") The underground bands here -- Litmus Green, the Resistance, Naked Aggression -- are more blatantly political than their predecessors, and arguably less imaginative. Viewers can compare a clip of Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea fondly describing a punk house in which people created music and art with footage of the current crop of drunk punks puking in the bathtub of the only paid-for apartment in their circle, inhabited by a mohawked kid in a wheelchair on disability. ("That," says Spheeris, "was one of the worst nights of my life.") But this is more about the fans than the bands. Because she didn't feel like she could ethically make money off its subjects, Spheeris financed the third Decline herself (she's done well directing studio films like Wayne's World), and says she will funnel the profits from the third Decline into agencies that serve homeless kids.

-- Heather Wisner

The Decline of Western Civilization Part III screens Thursday through Wednesday, Aug. 6-12, at the Red Vic, 1727 Haight (at Clayton). It plays at 7:15 and 9:15 nightly, with additional shows at 2 p.m. Wednesday and 2 and 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $6; call 668-3994.

 
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