The Decline of Western Civilization, Part III


Top 40% of all time (see others with this rank)

Festival Year

1998 (click here to see all competition films from this year)


Documentary Competition

Non-Cast Credits

Penelope Shpeeris, Scott Wilder, Jamie Thompson, Ann Trulove


In 1979, when director Penelope Spheeris filmed The Decline of Western Civilization, she looked at punks and punk-rock nihilism. For most, it was an opportunity to view close up a culture which was unfamiliar, outrageous, perhaps even exotic or offensive. Its portraits were full of rage and despair, set in a kinetic if not chaotic universe.

Nineteen years later, Spheeris returns to the world of punk but no longer as spectacle. Punk subjects, bands, and culture are no longer the focus of intense media coverage and/or distortion. That is why The Decline of Western Civilization, Part III is so simultaneously riveting and disturbing. Most of these kids were not even born when the first installment was filmed, and they live in a world that is more degraded. Many are homeless street people or live in squats, and they're almost all alcoholics and/or addicts trying to relieve the pain of their existence. But they're also incredibly articulate and perceptive about their lives and place in society. They're tough and vulnerable and usually fatalistic. The punk subculture, with its wars with skinheads and the cops, is an insular, often familial world.

Spheeris's work is moving yet pointed. Her filmmaking is both serious and sadonic and captures brilliantly the attitudes, feelings, and motivations of kids with whom she has an amazing rapport. Enlightening and energetic, Decline is both a reflection of our civilization seen through the eyes of its most marginal and alienated citizens and a revealing document about our society.


Geoffrey Gilmore (see other films reviewed by the same reviewer)

Film Takes Pace.