& How to Watch Them:
Wayne’s World (1992): Have you not seen Wayne’s World yet? Okay, essentially it’s a movie about public access television and headbangers and joy and has the best, unrepeatable fourth-wall breaking ending of all time.
The Decline of Western Civilization (1981): How many documentaries are so good that the LAPD Police Chief writes a letter demanding they never be shown in L.A. again? And then end up being one of the few films to be preserved by the Library of Congress’s National Registry for being culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant? How many films document Los Angeles’s punk in 1979-1980 and then are followed up by two more films documenting the heavy metal scene in the 80s and then the gutter punk lifestyle of homeless teens in the late 90s? You guessed it smarties, it’s The Decline of Western Civilization and it’s GREAT.
Dear Penelope Spheeris,
It’s a summer morning in 1992 and I’m sitting in my babysitter’s car in a Blockbuster Video parking lot, waiting for it to open. Months before, I had watched Wayne’s World in the theater and I had not stopped thinking about it. It was the funniest, coolest most insane movie I had ever seen. So, when the clerk unlocked the door, I sprinted in and grabbed a VHS. The mob I assumed would be gathered to get a copy before they were all rented did not arrive.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized that you, a woman (duh), directed it. And it wasn’t until years after that, having worked as a television writer, that I had an inkling of how much skill it takes to walk into a film that’s based on beloved, pre-existing characters, written by one of the stars and turn it into a movie that grosses $183 million worldwide. Yes, a lot of that success is based on the writing, but let’s keep in mind that you weren’t asked back to do Wayne’s World 2 *cough Mike Meyers cough* and it did not do nearly as well. So.
Recently I watched your documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization about punk rock bands in LA in 1979/1980. One of the bands you followed was called Fear, whose lead singer played Mr. Boddy in Clue. So, obviously, you’re the coolest person on the planet. I don’t remember Black Sheep and I never saw Little Rascals (my husband says they are “amazing” and “fun,” respectively) but I do know that it is punk as hell be one of a handful of women who directed big budget comedies in the 90’s. And the fact that you didn’t get your Wayne’s World break until you were 45 makes me want to get up, put on some pants and kick some ass.