- - Thursday, July 9, 2015

To call the release of the “Decline of the Western Civilization” films on DVD and Blu-ray “highly anticipated” would be a huge understatement. These legendary rock documentaries have not seen the light of day in any form since their release decades ago.

“Decline of the Western Civilization” takes a candid and glaring look at Los Angeles’ early punk scene and features performances and interviews with rock pioneers X, Fear and The Germs. “Decline 2” focuses on the glory days of the Sunset Strip hair metal scene, featuring young glamsters Poison and Faster Pussycat as well as heavy metal royalty such as Ozzy Osbourne, members of Kiss and Aerosmith. The film became legendary for its infamous scene in which WASP guitarist Chris Holmes floats in a swimming pool and douses himself in vodka while his mother looks on nervously.

The final film in the trilogy returns to the punk scene a decade later to examine the lives of LA street kids dubbed “Gutter Punks.”

To celebrate this monumental, rocking release, trilogy director Penelope Spheeris — who also has “Wayne’s World” and “Black Sheep” to her credits — and her daughter, Anna Fox, sat down to discuss the box set’s release.

Question: Why did it take so long for these films to be on DVD and Blu-ray?

Penelope Spheeris: The major stumbling block is that these films are what I consider to be my identity. I didn’t want to screw it up. I also thought it was going to be a lot of work and really didn’t have time to do it.

Fear and laziness caused a delay. There is no way these films would have been out on DVD before I died if not for my daughter Anna.

Q: Did you realize how highly anticipated they were?

PS: I had no idea, but Anna, who works on my Facebook pages, did. I didn’t realize I was as popular as I was. The response was humbling.

Four years ago, I asked Anna to come work with me because I had so much to do. She said, “The only way I’ll come to work with you is if we do the ‘Decline’ movies on DVD first.”

Q: Anna, how did you convince her?

Anna Fox: I knew the only way to get her to get the DVDs out was to sort of hold a gun to her head and say, “You need help with work? OK, but this is what we have to do.” That was my leverage. Once we started it, I realized how difficult it was. I then understood why she never wanted to do it before. [laughs]

Q: What was the most difficult part?

AF: Getting all the extra footage together was the hardest part. Everything was in a cold vault that felt like a morgue. You had to dress up in a down jacket just to get in there — and bring somebody with me because it was too scary to go alone. Then you had to drag all the stuff out.

Everything was on all different formats, most of which aren’t even used anymore — formats places no longer transfer. We had to track down [people who knew how to work] old machines and hope that they still worked, then digitize them ourselves in order to use the footage.

Q: Do you have a favorite of the three?

PS: It’s hard, because it’s like asking which of your kids you like best. But for me, of all the movies I’ve done, including the studio movies, my favorite movie is “Decline” part three, because it gave me the biggest, most important life lesson that I’ve experienced. It really spun my head around in terms of the way we here in America treat our young kids.

As a result of working on that movie, I decided to become a foster parent and try to help.

Q: As a filmmaker, what drew you to make films about music?

PS: I had just grown up on rock ‘n’ roll. I saw Elvis on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” My whole life was centered around rock ‘n’ roll. Just like kids today, I think I used music as a kind of escape, if I need[ed] to find a comfort zone.

I had checked out of rock ‘n’ roll by the mid-1970s because it was all disco and everything. But then when punk rock hit, I was like, “Oh boy!”

Q: When you look back on your career, are these the films you are most proud of?

PS: Oh yeah, for sure. That is why it was so hard to get them out again.

Q: What are you working on these days?

PS: I don’t really make movies anymore. Right now, I’m just promoting these films. Anna and I are doing a theatrical tour in the United States and Canada showing the movies. There are 15 or 20 cities booked.


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