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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (Blu-ray)
Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (Blu-ray)
Shout Factory // R // March 4, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Nick Hartel | posted March 16, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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Penelope Spheeris' follow-up to her iconic punk rock documentary, "The Decline of Western Civilization" ventured into territory familiar in many broad strokes to the punk scene, but at the core, quite often the antithesis, with an exploration of the 80s heavy metal/glam metal scene in the logically titled "The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years". Full disclosure up front, I'm no real fan of punk and my overall interest in metal doesn't really align with the subjects in Spheeris feature by-and-large, however Spheeris talent as an observer and show person allow the feature to transcend standard boundaries. The standalone Blu-Ray release was not my first encounter with this film that had been MIA on home video for years; captivated by the decadence I encountered on an old VHS copy nearly two decades prior, all the right notes were hit when revisiting this semi-milestone in rock documentary history all cleaned up and in HD.

"The Decline of Western Civilization II" lets the performers of the genre and the time tell their stories. Spheeris is by no means a completely passive observer in the sense of Errol Morris or other documentary giants; what she does bring to the table is a sense of style and showmanship that elevates often mundane answers to the realm of the absurd. It's one thing to ask Gene Simmons or Paul Stanley fairly rote questions about the rock-and-roll lifestyle; it's another thing entirely to present those answers with Paul Stanley lying in a giant bed, surrounded by women draped in silk sheets. His answers are no less or no more insightful in content, however the impact is stunning and Spheeris sells the metal image of excess in all areas from start to finish.

It's not all overinflated arena rock egos to behold in Spheeris' Palantir into the realm of feathered bangs and eyeliner on metal frontmen. The interviews with the up-and-comers and never-will-bes is one of the more fascinating aspects of the feature; there's a lot of overlap between icons like Ozzy and Steven Tyler as well as the Seduce's and Odin's of the world, likely never seen on as big a stage as this feature again. The themes of success, partying, drugs, and women permeate the screen, as does the irony of the facade the entire empire is built on. One minute a frontman is lamenting of how he can't live a life working a mundane job, only to reveal at the end, he's never actually held a "real job" to begin with. Spheeris doesn't let such idiotically brilliant moments sink in too much as the focus shifts from performer to performer, cutting up the proceedings with a number of live performances that are intended to show you the end product of all the "hard work" these guys and gals are putting in.

The one foible that almost makes the film crumble apart at the seams, is Spheeris' unrestrained excess. For every absurd Paul Stanley interview there's an Ozzy sequence where a rarely coherent and comprehendible metal god laments over the vices of the road whilst mundanely cooking breakfast. It's been reported Spheeris had Osbourne fake the shakes during one of these segments; in hindsight it's an eerily prophetic vision, but in the context of the film, its disingenuity makes one question the validity of many responses. The less said about W.A.S.P's Chris Holmes hamming it up in a faux drunken stupor as he chugs enough water from a liquor bottle, that if it were real alcohol, death might have surely followed, the better. Still, there's a biting honesty from many of the smaller names as well as the bigger ones, to keep things together and make "The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years" worth checking out as a standalone film.


THE VIDEO

The 1080p 1.78:1 transfer definitely shows its age and gritty origins. Color levels are the strongest point here with very natural, lifelike reproduction, along with consistent contrast. All the excess and tackiness of the 80s metal scene looks more vivid than ever. In terms of detail, overall, the film is firmly in the average category, made more apparent by a healthy dose of fluctuating grain. Overall, it's a clean transfer given the source material and stock; there's some occasional damage to the print and the HD format does have its benefits here over DVD where I suspect compression artifacts may have been prevalent.


THE AUDIO

The English Stereo DTS-HD MA track is a solid offering overall. As is the case with a documentary filmed in various locales, sound quality can fluctuate based on environment. In general, talking head pieces sport clear, distortion free sound, with any inconsistencies stemming from muttering metalheads. The live performances sound incredibly clear and warm, very clean overall and definitely punctuate transitions well. There's also a DTS-HD MA 5.1 English track; I sampled a bit of that and the upsell is only barely noticeable during the performances. English subtitles are included.


EXTRAS

Bonus features include an interview with Penelope Spheeris conducted by Tawn Mastrey, a collection of additional footage and extended/deleted interviews from the film, as well as an audio commentary with Nadir D'Priest and Penelope Spheeris that is well worth a listen.


FINAL THOUGHTS

A pure celebration and simultaneous indictment of metal excess, Spheeris' second entry in the "Decline of Western Civilization" series is a strong enough piece in its own right to warrant viewing or purchase. The film has been lovingly brought to the HD format and likely looks better than it ever has or ever will. While, Spheeris' film does have its moments of staged buffoonery that threaten to undercut its objective eye, the overall honesty and celebration of sophomoric ideals make it worth seeking out and perhaps as a double feature with "This is Spinal Tap". For those familiar with Spheeris' work, this purchase is likely unnecessary as it was previously included in the trilogy release along with an extra bonus disc containing more features specific to this film. For the casual fan or fervent metal head, give this one a spin. Recommended.

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