During a review of an Iggy Pop and the Stooges album, music critic Lester Bangs said that a friend of his declared the band’s rise to be the “fall of western civilization”. That assessment was cheekily immortalized a full decade later. The 1981 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, directed by Penelope Spheeris, was the beginning of a trilogy of films that explored the late 20th century Los Angeles music scene. For this first part, Spheeris filmed the punk rock community of the City of Angels from 1979 to 1980, focusing on seven prominent bands.
Featuring concert footage, interviews with the bands, fans and local fanzine editors, The Decline of Western Civilization shed a much-needed spotlight on the punk scene. The documentary shows bands like Germs and Fear at the peak of their power and portrays the scene sharply and often with plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor from the interviewees. A harrowing, deep dive into the punk explosion at times, “The Decline of the Western Civilization” is an excellent piece of music history.