The Decline of Western Civilization

(1981)

Director Penelope Spheeris’s first feature film, The Decline of Western Civilization is surely one of the best rock documentaries ever made.

Filmed during 1979 and 1980 when the LA punk subculture was beginning to ignite and released just a year later, the movie captures the rise (and fall in the case of the Germs) of the most notable bands to emerge in the movement, from Black Flag, Fear, X and the Circle Jerks.

The documentary features intense concert footage from the era and interviews with band members, fanzine writers, and punks who attended the shows. Perhaps the most fascinating of all the interviews in the movie are those with the Germs’ wild frontman Darby Crash, whose image adorns the cover poster and who would infamously die from a suspected suicide before the film was even released.

The film ultimately became the opening act of a trilogy for Spheeris, with the second film, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years arriving in 1988, and focusing on the Los Angeles heavy metal scene of 1986-1988. The third installment, The Decline of Western Civilization III arrived in 1998.