The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Penelope Spheeris Day


‘Punk has been tamed, punk has been neutered, punk has been domesticated. The album The Stooges is fifty years old this August, and the music of omnidirectional bile and antiauthoritarianism that it anticipated has been museumified, the subject of a Met Gala and a Museum of Sex show—this despite Johnny Rotten’s staunchly anti-erotic definition of love as “two minutes and fifty seconds of squelching noises.” Punk has been turned into something that it never was, as has so much “problematic” art, in this case retrospectively cast as protest music with clearly articulated social justice–oriented aims that if stated wouldn’t ruffle the feathers of a contemporary middle-class liberal. This required a process of selective amnesia: we can remember Joe Strummer yawping about Sandinistas or whatever, but not Rotten growling seemingly anti-abortion sentiments in “Bodies” or Siouxsie Sioux performing in a swastika armband.

‘All of this only underlines the importance of Penelope Spheeris’s achievement in her punk films, for they offer a from-the-pit perspective on what American punk and hardcore was—not what many of its contemporary interpreters might have liked it to be—an idiom cleanly classifiable neither as progressive nor as reactionary, a nailbomb chucked in the direction of popular entertainment, a subculture whose identifiers projected a clear “KEEP OUT” stance to the wary. This body of punk films may be said to include Spheeris’s fiction feature debut, Suburbia (1983), and Dudes (1987), and the Decline of Western Civilization trilogy of documentaries, released in 1981, 1988, and 1998. Part I and Part III are addressed to two generations of Los Angeleno punkers, while Part II, subtitled The Metal Years, focuses on the Los Angeles hair metal scene as centered around Sunset Strip clubs like Gazzari’s, Rainbow Bar & Grill, and the Cathouse club. It’s a bit of an outlier, but the film finds enough affinities between this world and that of punk to merit inclusion.

‘It was the first Decline that tagged Spheeris as the foremost interpreter of the punk phenomenon. The film was shot between fall 1979 and spring 1980 using equipment checked out from the music videography company she ran, Rock ‘n Reel, a world away from the yacht rock outfits and bloated FM rock acts that she made a living shooting. A lightning-in-a-bottle document, The Decline of Western Civilization catches a pivot point in the southern California punk scene, as the center of gravity is moving away from the older, artier, more queer-oriented crowd in Hollywood, represented by the likes of the Alice Bag Band and X, and moving toward the dowdier precincts of the unfashionable South Bay and Orange County, where bands like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks were playing in a headlong, raw-power style that would eventually be distinguished—if never particularly well-defined—as “hardcore.” Brendan Mullen, founder of Hollywood punk club the Masque, identifies the key element in this new music as breakneck velocity, playing at “upwards of 250, 300 beats per minute.” Recording a moment in punk history, Decline also helped to make it. On the other side of the country, punkers in major cities saw Spheeris’s movie and started to imitate the roving, herky-jerky dance seen in the SoCal pits, dubbed the Huntington Beach (colloquially shortened to “H.B.”) Strut. And if hardcore might’ve eventually made inroads in Boston, New York, and Washington D.C., Spheeris’s movie certainly did its part in expediting matters.

‘Spheeris was in her midthirties at the time of the shoot, a decade or more older than most punkers at the time. If her age might’ve marked her an outsider in the milieu she was capturing, she was in other respects its ideal chronicler. Freak shows were in her blood, coming as she did from midway folk. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1945, her father, Andrew, was a former Olympic wrestler from Greece who created his own traveling carnival, Magic Empire Shows, and performed in it as a strongman. Penelope—the first of four children to Andrew and his wife, Juanita (nicknamed “Gypsy,” and picked up by Andrew at a stop in Kansas)—traveled with Magic Empire Shows until, in 1951, at a stop in Troy, Alabama, her father was killed while defending a black troupe member from harassment. Spheeris’s mother thereafter took her children to California with their first in a series of nine stepfathers, shuttling the family between trailer parks in gritty, working-class Los Angeles neighborhoods like Long Beach, Chula Vista, National City, Midway City, and Venice Beach, where she tended bar at a dive called the Circle.

‘Through Spheeris’s peripatetic youth, rock and roll was the one constant, her shelter. She was a regular at venues like the El Monte Legion Stadium, the Rendezvous Ballroom on Balboa Island, and the Cinnamon Cinder in Studio City, a devotee to surf rock acts like the legendary Dick Dale and the Deltones. After putting herself through film school at UCLA waitressing at Denny’s and the International House of Pancakes, she started making the scene at LA’s punk clubs—the Masque, Club 88, Blackies, Cathay de Grande—and saw something that was worth setting down in celluloid.

‘Young enough to feel the goaded animal anger of this anguished music in her gut, old enough to bring some perspective to bear on the men and women making it, Spheeris caught something essential about the scene, specifically the degree to which it revolved around music by and for damaged individuals, people practically radiating with their hurt, for whom this music was nothing less than a lifeline. Her childhood marred by violence and instability, lived in part in the highly unorthodox familial environment of the circus, Spheeris understood something about her subjects, and was able to put them at ease in a way that many filmmakers might not.

‘Now treasured as a time capsule, Decline was on its initial release more of a succès d’estime, and it succeeded in catching the attention of producer Roger Corman. As the newly inaugurated expert in the mores and folkways of hardcore punk, Spheeris was given her first fiction feature by Corman, a punksploitation picture to be titled Suburbia. The film’s opening, one of the most bracing and brutal in ’80s American cinema, depicts a toddler being mauled to death by a stray dog. Undeniably something to get an audience standing at attention—the movie inspired the Pet Shop Boys song of the same title, and the lyric “Let’s take a ride, and run with the dogs tonight”—it also effectively introduces the underlying themes of the film: child neglect, child endangerment, the hostility of the suburban environment.’ — The Criterion Collection





Penelope Spheeris Site
Penelope Spheeris @ IMDb
Penelope Spheeris: ‘I sold out and took the money’
Penelope Spheeris on leaving Hollywood behind: “They can blow me”
Penelope Spheeris @ Facebook
Penelope Spheerie @ letterboxd
The Truth About Punk According to Penelope Spheeris
On steamrolling bold visions into existence and healing along the way
Penelope Spheeris looks back on her cult punk docs the police tried to ban
Visual History with Penelope Spheeris
On The Corner of Lookout and Wonderland: A Profile of Penelope Spheeris in Present Day Los Angeles
‘I’ll die a punk’
Penelope Spheeris: Selling Her Soul For Cinema
Penelope Spheeris on Wayne’s World, Dating Extras, and Why She Didn’t Do the Sequel
Sleaze on the Sunset Strip: How Penelope Spheeris captured the hair metal scene at the brink of implosion
Talking to Penelope Spheeris about time
Interview: Penelope Spheeris
The Family Values of Penelope Spheeris and Anna Fox
Underground with Punk Icon Penelope Spheeris
Penelope Spheeris on Documenting the Misunderstood
Penelope Spheeris Revisits Her Decline of Western Civilization Trilogy
For Penelope Spheeris, Fame Came at a Price
“It’s All About Shocking People”
Penelope Spheeris: Things are better for women … kinda



Penelope Spheeris on “The Decline of Western Civilization”

Megadeth – In My Darkest Hour

Night Ranger – I Did It For Love

Megadeth – Wake Up Dead

Penelope Spheeris at length




The A.V. Club: You’ve been a filmmaker forever, but you’ve said in interviews that you didn’t grow up obsessed with cinema.

Penelope Spheeris: I wasn’t obsessed with it. I would go to movies because it would be our escape. We lived in trailer parks, and I would save money by collecting up Coke bottles so we would be able to go. It would cost, like, a dollar to get into the Saturday matinees. I’d go to a double feature and you got free stuff in the middle, you know, news reports and The Little Rascals and shit.

AVC: Then you ended up making a Little Rascals movie.

PS: That’s why I did it, because I really knew a lot about The Little Rascals from going to the matinees.

AVC: Do you remember the first thing you ever shot?

PS: When I was at school at UCLA, they loaned [us] cameras and I was going home one day and I saw a bunch of crows flying in a field. I used some negative film, and I printed it as a negative so it was a black sky with white birds in it. That was my first piece of film I ever shot. And I’m like, “Man, this is cool!” Filmmaking is about trying to master or change reality, and have your own interpretation of it. It’s kind of an ego trip in a way!

But yeah, I fell in love at that moment, and again when I did my film at UCLA called Hats Off To Hollywood. I put some music to a shot of Hollywood Boulevard in, like, 1968 or something, and man, when you put music and movies together—it was like the sky opened up and God said, “You’re meant to do this.” So I did it.

AVC: Combining music and film is your thing, but a lot of the stuff that you do is also about outcasts, people who live on the margins. What is it about those kind of characters that interests you?

PS: I think the fact that I was born on a carnival [had a lot to do with it]. When we traveled around, the people that would join us as we moved from town to town would be people that didn’t really have any reason to stay where they were. The carnival was a collection of outcasts, so I feel very comfortable around them.

AVC: You’ve filmed in the pit at punk shows, you’ve done TV movies about alien abductions, you’ve shot in a women’s prison. Has there ever been a day on set where you were just like, “What the fuck am I doing here?”

PS: That would be working with the Weinsteins. I have done a lot of different kinds of genres and a lot of different types of subject matter, but I did those because I just took whatever job I could get. Because as a woman in the film business, you really don’t get to pick and choose.

But working with the Weinsteins was probably the moment where I said to myself, “How the fuck did I get here? What am I doing?” I did a movie called Senseless with David Spade and Marlon Wayans with the Weinsteins producing back in 1998. I was just finishing this movie and I said, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to work in this movie business anymore.” And as a matter of fact, that was that.

AVC: Do you feel like you forgot why you were in the business, or that it had changed into something that you didn’t recognize anymore?

PS: It changed into something that I didn’t want to be a part of. I really didn’t want to be a part of mainstream Hollywood anymore. It was too—it’s ugly. You have no friends in Hollywood. Hollywood is a lonely, lonely desert, especially as a woman.

AVC: Something that I’ve heard a lot of female directors say is that there’s no mercy. If you make a movie and it’s not a hit, that’s it.

PS: There’s no forgiveness. Oliver Stone could go wreck a car and get arrested for being on drugs and then do Alexander. But we can’t do that. Women can’t make mistakes. I’m not driving home tonight because I had a couple beers, you know? [Laughs.]

But yeah, you can’t screw up when you’re a woman. One little mistake, and you’re done. Like Senseless, they kept rewriting it and rewriting it. And I’m like, “Dude, you guys, this is not working. Don’t keep rewriting it. Let me just do the movie I signed up to do.” But they kept rewriting it, and it’s in my contract that I got to do what they say, you know? And at one point, I said to Bob Weinstein, “I don’t think this works,” and he goes, “This is my fucking money and I’m going to spend it any fucking way I want to.” And how are you going to argue with that?

So I had to do the movie, and it didn’t do very well. And as a woman, when you do a movie that doesn’t do well, then you’re done. You’re in director jail.

AVC: For forever.

PS: Forever. It’s not like they go, “Okay, Penelope, you’re out of jail now. Let’s make a movie.” At this point, I don’t want to make a movie. They can’t even fucking beg me to make a movie. I got to make a lot of money in the days when you could make a lot of money as a director, and I invested it right. I don’t need that anymore. It’s not like I’m bitter. I just feel like I went through too much pain. I really did enjoy my life, being in the movie business.

AVC: That’s something that’s incomprehensible to a lot of powerful men in Hollywood, that you would not care about them.

PS: [Laughs.] Really?

AVC: I think they think that the world revolves around them and that’s why they can do whatever they want.

PS: That’s their problem, because I don’t care. I don’t care. I really don’t. I feel like there’s more important things in life than going through these dealings where you’ve got these people that are deceitful and liars who don’t stand up for their words, you know? And I went through a lot of that.

I don’t mean to be griping. Let me tell you, I did better than most people did. I got paid during the time where they were paying directors millions of dollars for doing movies. I think that’s why the Weinsteins tortured me so much, because they paid me 2.75 million or some shit like that for doing Senseless. It’s like, “Okay, we gave you all this money so we’re going to torture you this much.” It’s not worth it.

AVC: So you just thought to yourself, “This isn’t that important to me”?

PS: I got to a point where I said, “It’s not that important to me.” It took a little while, because that was me. I identified with the movie business. “I am a filmmaker. That’s what I do.”

Right now, I don’t identify with that anymore. [Sin and I] just spent two years building a house together, and we have six houses, and we’ve got a lot of tenants and a lot of rent, and I don’t need the movie business, you know? So if they don’t hire me because I’m a woman—because I’m an older woman—if they don’t hire me, I don’t give a shit. I don’t know who fired who, but as far as I’m concerned, I fired them.

AVC: That’s kind of badass. “Fine, well, fuck you too, then.”

PS: I don’t need them. I really don’t. Especially now, what am I going to do? Work for a year on a movie and make $50,000? They can blow me! That’s a quote. You can print that.

AVC: How does it feel to go to something like this event and see something that you did back in the early ’80s and be celebrated as a filmmaker?

PS: It does feel good, especially because when I did it back then, nobody cared.

AVC: You were saying the LAPD tried to shut down the premiere of The Decline Of Western Civilization.

PS: Right. Most of my movies do well later—they don’t do well at the time. Well, except for Wayne’s World and Black Sheep. And I guess The Little Rascals did good.

AVC: We were talking earlier about places where you felt like you didn’t really belong. Was there a time where you felt like, “This is the place for me?”

PS: That’s a really good question. I’ve thought about that a lot. And honestly, in mainstream studio production, I never really felt like I belonged there. I almost regret not soaking up the glory at the time, but I just never felt like it was the right place for me. I was doing it because, like I said, I took every job I could get. But those aren’t my people. My people are these people here tonight [seeing Decline]. Just down to earth, normal people.

AVC: What about the second Decline movie? That’s a whole different thing, with Ozzy Osbourne and KISS and that whole rock star culture.

PS: Well, the second one—that’s a long story. I don’t mean to put it down, a lot of people like it, but it’s a different thing. You know who produced that movie? Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton, who directed Little Miss Sunshine. And they had a whole comic vision for the movie. I would have made every band in the movie be more like the hardcore bands [in the original Decline Of Western Civilization], but I didn’t really get to pick and choose.

AVC: There are some pretty heavy moments in it regardless, like Chris Holmes [of W.A.S.P.] pouring a bottle of vodka in his mouth while his mom watches silently.

PS: Yeah, in the pool. Chris Holmes and Megadeath. That’s me making a movie. The rest of it is, “Let’s exploit this, you know, scene that’s going on right now.”

AVC: The Decline Of Western Civilization Part III is close to your heart, for a number of reasons.

PS: Not least because that’s where I met my boyfriend of 21 years. [Gestures to Sin, dozing on the couch next to her.] He’s going to sleep right now. [Laughs.]

AVC: How do you feel when people say punk is dead?

PS: I feel like they are so behind the times, because back when punk was thriving, that phrase was being used. Punk rock is by nature so against being exploitative and commercial that it doesn’t promote itself. And so people don’t hear a lot about it. But punk, I think, still is alive and well.

And I’m not talking about Green Day—I mean, fine. Okay. Green Day’s okay. Whatever. But for me, it, punk is not only music. It’s a philosophy and a way of life and a set of morals and ethics.

AVC: So someone could be a punk painter or chef or something.

PS: Yeah! Definitely! Usually, it doesn’t involve self-promotion or exploitation.

AVC: There are lot of people talking now about how can we get more women into directing. If a young woman today wants to start making movies, do you think there’s any value for her in going through the system, or do you think that’s just totally fucked?

PS: There is, actually. I’m very glad that today there are more opportunities for young women. I don’t think it’s a useless endeavor at this point, by any means. I almost feel jealous that I was not able to take advantage of this movement. Because it’s one thing to be a woman in this business, but let me tell you something, it’s another thing to be an older woman in this business. Because then you’ve got two strikes against you from the start.


12 of Penelope Spheeris’s 38 films

Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales: The Movie for Homosexuals (1968)
‘In 1968, Richard Pryor and director Penelope Spheeris worked together on a subversive satire called Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales: The Movie for Homosexuals. While it’s unclear what the film was about, it is believed that it followed a group of Black Panthers who kidnap a wealthy white man and put him on trial for all the racial crimes in American history. Spheeris had assembled a rough cut to screen for Pryor at his home, but Pryor’s then-wife Shelley Bonis got into an argument with him about spending all of his time and money on the film. In a fit of rage, Pryor destroyed the negative.

‘According to the Richard Pryor biography Furious Cool, “Penelope spent days splicing the pieces of the film back together like a jigsaw puzzle. She reconstructed the forty-some minutes of film by arduously piecing together the mangled pieces, some only a few frames long. The result was so crumpled and patched together that the film danced all around as it ran through the projector gate.”

Uncle Tom’s Fairy Tales was thought to be lost until Spheeris found a brief clip in her archive and donated it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2005. It was screened during a tribute to the comedian, when it sparked Pryor’s widow Jennifer Lee to sue Penelope Spheeris and Pryor’s daughter Rain for allegedly stealing the original negative during the 1980s. The lawsuit is still pending.’ — Mental Floss


The Decline of Western Civilization (1981)
‘Penelope Spheeris’ THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION was perceived as shocking and outrageous at the time of its original release in 1981 and its two follow-up films were no less extraordinary and revealing. Today, museums and educational institutions around the world present them as a historically significant works of art. Featuring some of the most influential and innovative musicians and groups of all time – Germs, Black Flag, X, Fear, Circle Jerks, Alice Cooper and Ozzy Osbourne, these riveting, unflinching and hard-core films adeptly captured the spirit of a major cultural phenomenon.’ — Decline Movies






Suburbia (1983)
‘The dramatis personae of Suburbia have made it to the threshold of adulthood, but as walking wounded. Through the characters of teen runaways Sheila and Evan (Jennifer Clay and Bill Coyne), Spheeris introduces the viewer to a group of squatters who call themselves T.R.—The Rejected. Having left home, they’ve created their own makeshift family, like the one jerry-rigged together by James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo in Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955), though with none of the Gothic romanticism of their abandoned mansion retreat. The backdrop here is the decidedly non-picturesque cities of Downey and Norwalk, the T.R. manse a run-down tract house located near the Alondra Boulevard off-ramp on I-605.

‘As to lend the proceedings a level of verisimilitude, the young cast was made up mostly of street kids and punk scenesters—among them Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea and more than a few clunky line-readers—and Spheeris gets to make use of her concert film–shooting bona fides, interpolating semi-documentary scenes of bands in action. T.S.O.L. perform “Wash Away” and “Darker My Love,” the Vandals contribute “The Legend of Pat Brown,” and early on in the film D.I. offer “Richard Hung Himself,” with frontman Casey Royer fashioning a noose from his microphone cord while a kewpie-ish New Waver–type girl in the audience is first accosted and then stripped nude, mocked and jeered. As teen punks my friends and I scoffed at this moment, which smacked of scare tactic “Do you know where your children are?” propaganda, but I’m less inclined to do so nowadays, for in its over-the-top way it expresses something true about the free-floating misogyny in the scene being covered—the stories about T.S.O.L.’s malevolent jock frontman, Jack Grisham, as circulated through various proliferating oral histories, are enough to curl your hair.’ — Criterion Collection



the entirety


The Boys Next Door (1985)
‘When Bo and Roy, 18-year-olds fresh from school and seemingly normal, decide to hit LA for one last fling before settling into factory jobs, neither they nor the audience are prepared for their sudden descent into committing a series of brutal, apparently motiveless murders. Whereas Spheeris’ The Wild Side was weakened by sentimentalising its disaffected punk heroes, her second feature presents a tougher and more balanced view of teen violence; while we’re allowed a glimmer of understanding into the murderers’ feelings, we never indulge them with misplaced sympathies: these boys are monsters.’ — Time Out



Dudes (1987)
‘Two punks from the big city, traveling across the country in a Volkswagen bug, embrace the western ethos when they must take revenge against a group of rednecks for killing their friend in this lighthearted road movie. Along the way, they enlist the help of a young woman who runs a wrecking service.’ — letterboxd




The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988)
‘The second in Penelope Spheeris’ trilogy, The Metal Years takes a fast-paced look at the outrageous Heavy Metal scene of the late ’80s. Set in Los Angeles, the film explores fascinating portraits of struggling musicians, fans and star-struck groupies. Featuring Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne, Poison and members of Aerosmith, Kiss, and Motorhead as well as performances by Megadeath, Faster Pussycat, Lizzy Borden, London, Odin and Seduce, this raucous and entertaining chapter also chronicles the lonely naiveté of the striving bands, the endless flow of alcohol and drugs and the relentless sexism. Poignant, wistful, sad and insightful, it’s a brilliant look at a unique and timeless genre of music. It’s a historically significant time capsule and it has come to define a generation of music lovers. It is both an exposé and a fun, irreverent, indulgent, indescribably exciting ride.’ — Shout Factory



The Making of “The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years”


Thunder and Mud (1990)
‘Completely bonkers, not sure if this was a Pay Per View event when it first came out because it sure feels like one. Thunder & Mud is essentially a rock concert/battle of the bands/mud wrestling tournament all rolled into one. Two shitty hair metal bands will perform and then two women who represent each band will mud wrestle to determine which band is the best, there’s also some comedy bits in between each act and of course everything is obviously 100% scripted. To top things off the event is hosted by Jessica Hahn, a.k.a. the woman at the centre of the Jim Bakker scandal.’ — Keenan Tamblyn



Wayne’s World (1992)
‘Because Spheeris had issues with Meyers during Wayne’s World—he wanted to recut it; she didn’t—she was not asked to direct the second installment, which hit theaters in 1993. “I did feel bad that I couldn’t direct Wayne’s World 2,” she says. “It was one of those Hollywood tests. It’s what Carrie Fisher called a ‘nervous breakthrough.’ That was one of the really tough ones for me.” If it’s any consolation, the movie bombed. Spheeris, meanwhile, continued as a successful working Hollywood director but got pigeonholed into directing mainstream comedies—from big-screen adaptations of The Little Rascals and The Beverly Hillbillies to S.N.L. alumni Chris Farley and David Spade in Black Sheep.

‘“I didn’t really want to be doing comedy,” she says. “I was good at it, I think. But basically, I’m an extremely serious person—borderline depressed. I don’t run around trying to be funny all the time. I don’t think of the world as funny, but that’s maybe what makes the comedy in the films work. But I wish I would’ve been able to do other kinds of films after Wayne’s World.” She recalls pitching a story on toxic waste to a producer, who laughed at her. “Everything serious got dismissed after Wayne’s World,” she says.

‘With the success of Wayne’s World, Spheeris became one of only a handful of women who have directed a movie grossing over $100 million. Spheeris and her fellow female (and male) directors got paid “big time” in the 90s—“you don’t get $2 million to direct a movie anymore,” she says—but thinking back, she also realizes how much discrimination she experienced as a female director.

‘“I never went along the way saying, ‘Oh, I’m being beat up because I’m a woman. I’m being treated badly because I was a woman.’ But when I look back, I definitely was. And we all were during that time. The fact that there hasn’t been much of a statistical change 25 years later is kind of disheartening.”’ — Vanity Fair




The Beverly Hillbillies (1993)
‘Penelope Spheeris’s home, near Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills, doesn’t look like it belongs to a punk icon. It’s airy and minimalist, with grey tiled floor and white carpet. We’re sitting on white sofas in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows, and three small dogs are running around. Spheeris bought the place in 1974, then completely rebuilt it in the 90s with the money she made from directing a string of box-office-friendly comedies. But she’s in no mood to reminisce about the likes of Wayne’s World, The Beverly Hillbillies or Little Rascals. “The only movies I could get released were movies that I basically just sold out on and took the money,” she sighs. “And the only reason they released them was because they had thrown money at it and they had to get their money back.” Then she apologises for being so “Hollywood-jaded”.’ — The Guardian


The Little Rascals (1994)
‘Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat, and the other characters made famous in the Our Gang shorts of the 1920s and 1930s are brought back to life in this nostalgic children’s comedy. When Alfalfa starts to question his devotion to the club’s principles after falling for the beautiful nine-year old Darla, the rest of the gang sets out to keep them apart.’ — letterboxd




The Decline of Western Civilization III (1998)
‘Penelope Spheeris: ‘I feel that Part III makes the strongest social statement of the three films, and that it serves a greater purpose than the other movies. We have a very, very concerning homeless situation here. In the 20 years since I made that film about homeless gutter punks, the homeless population has exploded here. The reason Decline III is my favourite film is because I think I was able to capture some sympathy and understanding for people in these unfortunate situations. It was the best two years of my life, honestly. In the beginning of punk rock, in the late ‘70s, there were certain traditional concepts that were targeted and being broken down — social issues, political issues, clothing trends, musical trends – it was across the board. The insane genius that Johnny Rotten is, he was just like, “Let’s just tear down everything.” Okay, well, he’s lost his mind today, but back then it was genius. Because we had to get rid of disco on the radio, we had to get rid of hippies, we had to get rid of a lot of things. We needed to change, y’know? And with Decline III, I feel that the kids really embraced that original ethic and continued to live it. My movie Suburbia also has those kinds of themes in it: “Fuck the world, I can live on my own, leave me alone, I don’t care what you think about me.”’ — Dazed Digital



Behind the Scenes


Hollywierd (1999
‘An in depth documentary shot by music video director Penelope Spheeris  during the production of the Full Moon Features classic BLOOD DOLLS. The documentary features Phil Fondacaro (Troll, Ghoulies II, Bordello of Blood, Return of The Jedi), Venesa Talor (Femalien) and the beautiful ladies of the Blood Dolls band.’ — Full Moon Features





p.s. Hey. We’re back. Long story short, the blog has these plug-ins, and occasionally I’m notified that I need to update one of them, which involves just clicking a button. On Friday, I was notified that a plug-in called Ninja Form needed updating. I did, and the blog was immediately shut down. Apparently the plug-in was corrupted and shot a bug into my blog. It was finally repaired yesterday. In the course of fixing things, the WordPress repair crew raised issues about some of the content I post here that they say exceeds WP’s guidelines. I can’t go into details right now, but I may be forced to either delete a number of certain posts or have my blog completely shut down. We’re in negotiations at the moment. But, as far as you’re concerned, everything should work okay while that’s ongoing. ** G, Hi, G! Great to see you! I was really into the WWE in the 80s and 90s, wrote a big essay about it for an art magazine that seems to have gone missing. As David said just below your comment, the Barthes essay is from his book ‘Mythologies’. Anyway, so glad you liked the post. You good? I hope your time during the blog black out was beautifully spent. ** David Ehrenstein, I was on a plane with Haystack Calhoun once when I was a young teen on vacation with my folks on Maui. He needed three seats to sit comfortably, and was he was kind of crammed in even then. My favorite back then, or relatively soon after then, I guess, was George ‘The Animal’ Steel. I think he still might be my all-time fave. Everyone, Mr. Ehrenstein is still selling great things out of his house and still needs lucky buyers. Hit him up at Cellar47@yahoo.com. ** Corey Heiferman, Hi. As I told G., I was kind of obsessed with the WWE thing decades ago. I think it even influenced my fiction in some weird, forgotten way. The TV series project was a colossal waste of time and energy, but if we can salvage a feature film out of all that useless work, that would make it somewhat worth it, I suppose. We’ll see. It’s a rough time to try to make a strange feature film. Did you get to start visiting with your folks? I hope your dad is still doing well and improving. I like Robbie Basho. I did a post about him way back when that I should try to restore. Thank you for the shares. ** politekid, Hi, Oscar, just barging in on your and Corey’s back and forth to say hi! How’s it? ** Misanthrope, I assume Kayla is in pristine shape by now. How’s the guitar treating you? Like a good slave, I hope. How was that little singing gig dealy? ** _Black_Acrylic, HI, Ben. Cool, thanks. I guess Johnson laid down some seemingly half-assed new measures on you guys yesterday? What do I know, but I thought it was semi-insanity that the UK reopened pubs at the point they did. How’s everything? ** Nik, Hey, Nik! Wow, seriously? You’re reading ‘The Golden Fruits’? That’s nuts. I do still have my original copy, but it’s way, way far away in inaccessible LA like the giant majority of my books. Thanks about my toe. It’s still painful, and there’s still nothing I can do but wait and not jump around too much apparently. Halloween in Paris is basically a nothing. Although the kind of great Paris haunted house attraction Le Manoir de Paris has just reopened after the lockdown to do a Halloween haunt, and I’m going with friends tomorrow night, and I am ultra-excited about that. Otherwise, I think I’ll be stuck just making Halloween themed blog posts and dreaming. How has stuff transpired since my blog’s accessibility to you was so rudely interrupted? ** Dominik, Big D! Yes, I’m back. It was not the funnest and least stressful series of days, that’s for sure. I hope everything will be fine here now. We’ll see. Still no new restrictions on Paris. Very strange. Hooray about your laptop and the exciting-ness of the course! Even your words had a kind of smile shape. Today … Zac is going to help me do a backup of my blog since things are still a bit scary/fragile, and then I think we’re going to look at art, and I think we might go see the new Gaspar Noe film. I think that’s my day’s best possible outcome. What did your day provide? I had to look up who Cody Fern is. I agree that short shorts is the way to go for him. Scotty Clarke drunk as a skunk strip tease love, Dennis. ** h (now j), h (now j)!!!! Hi!!! ** Steve Erickson, Yeppers, good to back. Everyone, Mr. Erickson has written about the New York Film Festival, and, since it’s somewhat unlikely that you’ll be attending said fest, Steve’s overview is probably your best way in. Here. I’ll likely never see that NXVIM cult doc series, but who really knows. Wow, about Errol Morris’s Timothy Leary doc. I didn’t know about that. That could really work, Thanks for the tip. ** Bill, Hi! I did know about that basketball player only because of the shared name and a revealing google search. Listen, SFMOMA and Amoeba reopening are huge deals. I totally get it. Congrats! You good? Things good? ** Conrad, Hi, Conrad! Thanks a bunch for coming in here. I’m so happy that the blog facilitated you discovering artists you dig. Especially Torbjorn Vejvi, one of my greatest favorites. And Ryan Trecartin, ditto. I would be very happy and honored to do the podcast. Thanks you so much for asking. I’m around, so basically at your convenience. Do you have my email? It’s: denniscooper72@outlook.com. It will be a great pleasure to talk with you! Take care. ** Okay. The blog restarts with this post about the curious, all over the place oeuvre of filmmaker Penelope Spheeris. I hope you’ll give it your all. See you tomorrow.


  1. Hi Dennis! It’s wonderful that the blog is back on its feet again. I actually did miss it. I’d be very very very upset if WP crew decide to take it down for good, I’m sure many others would be devastated too. I meant what? Surely they can’t just get away with erasing a major art archive? How is that even a possibility? Ninja Form sounds like the sketchiest nightmare ever. Ew. I’m so sorry you had to deal with this. I don’t know I’d rather be optimistic and think they won’t be able to shut down your blog, perhaps the worst case scenario would be to impose some sort of censorship on certain posts – I can imagine what posts might’ve triggered them, and I lowkey live for those posts! – but even censorship would be more manageable than complete erasure…

    I would love to read your essay on WWE! It’s sad that it’s hard (impossible) to find. Sadly, this is the case with some of your other works too – yes, sorry, I’m still looking for a copy of The Weaklings and also GONE. I only recently found out about Gone (through James Batley’s fabulous clip) and it just looks so beautiful and I think I need it for the essay I’m writing about your work, but Infinity Land Press has run out of stock and I haven’t been able to find a copy to purchase anywhere else either. Anyway, I hope you’ve been well other than having to deal with Ninja Form… I’ve been well, can’t wait to see my poems on SELFFUCK and celebrated by rereading Closer and the ending made me cry again – but in a cathartic way of course, not in a sentimental one. I love the STEVE chapter so much (I also love the Swans reference!). This time I found so much philosophy in the DAVID chapter, and of course devoured the GEORGE chapters again. I also drew a character map of Closer, which made me feel greatly calm, but some people made fun of it, not in a mean way of course, just saying I was doing a ‘school project’. But I’m always learning, so maybe it was my school project and I had this urge to do it. Somehow, I don’t think it’s the most embarrassing thing I’ve done in my life.

    Penelope Spheeris sounds and looks like an absolute badass. I’ll watch Suburbia later. Thanks for the link.

  2. Hey, man,

    This is great! I can access your blog again!

    Long time no talk!

    How are you? how you’ve been doing? How’re things in France and in Paris particularly?

    Here this virus/pandemic thing is out of control. In a matter of days it will be half a year since the last time I stepped outside of this house in which I dwell at all.

    Sorry, are you a vegetarian or a vegan?

    Favorite Tom Waits album?

    I know you like Mayhem, but, do you like Black Metal in general? If so, favorite Darkthrone album?

    Great to be talking to you again, man. Really.

    Plans for today?

    Good day, good luck,



  3. Dennis, I’ve seen a couple of these movies and never realized they were Spheeris movies. Of course, when I saw them, such things were the furthest from my mind re: who the director, screenwriter, etc. was.

    The Boys Next Door was one I saw as a young teenager on something like HBO. Kind of a crazy movie, and had those weird, sketchy homosexuals in it. I remember thinking that was kerazy.

    Kayla is right as rain now. She’s been dogsitting, Door Dashing, schooling, and working on her guitar playing. We’re going to a friend’s part this weekend. My one friend is back from Japan, and two of the couples are celebrating their anniversaries. Should be fun. I bought a way-too-expensive cake for the party that they don’t know about.

    Me and my guitar. Waiting until I was 49 to pick it up was probably not the best idea. However, I’m making progress. It’s fun, and when I put my mind to something, I do it. I’m learning. I just need to practice. I was blessed with really good hand-eye coordination and fast hands, so that helps. Just taking my time and getting it done.

    Man, the blog’s troubles. WP is a little crazy. Of course, my perspective is biased and just different, but I can’t see where anything over the past months was beyond some sort of weirdo guidelines. A little nudity every once in a while…big deal. Maybe copyright issues or something? Fuck that. Anything on here could be treated like a review, with use of the material just to comment on it. Oy vey.

    David news: seems one of his friends is alleged to have pulled a gun on and shot at some people. He’s under investigation. Cop was here this past weekend. The guy wanted us to say he was here that night. Thing is, he was here that night…for a tiny bit. David is saying he wasn’t with him. I don’t know if he was or not. So we’re just waiting for some sort of shoe to drop.

    I do know that the incident actually happened. I heard one of David’s friends telling David and another friend about it (which makes me think David was indeed not there). My mom heard the same guy telling other friends about it too. These guys are so loud when they talk. And we even heard the alleged perpetrator say, “I’ll probably get 5 years.”

    Yikes. So hard to stress to David about decision making. Everything’s “It’s no big deal. You’re exaggerating. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Or the playing dumb, “I don’t know.”

  4. TCM featured “Decline of Western Civilization” this week in its salute to women filmmakers. I also adore her”Litttle Rascals” film for both her direction of the kids and her use of L.A. locales. “The Boys Next Door” with Charlie Sheen and the lovely Maxwell Caulfield is also highy recommended.

    Got a call from Gus Van Sant yesterday. Haven’t spoken to him since “Milk” A friend of his has made a small indie musical about a gay mailman and seeks my advice in marketing it. I expect to see it soon.

    Gus had a truly great project a couple of months back that was halted because of COVID-19. It’s a film adaptation of this marvelous Michael Chabon story THe Prince of Fashion He got a marvelous young actor named Joseph Temblay to play the lead with Will Farrell as his sympathetic father. Hope Gus can get it revived cause as you’ll read t’s really somethi’ else.

  5. Hi!!

    Penelope Spheeris! Right up my alley! Thank you for this post!

    Shit, Dennis, I really hope they won’t hurt your blog again. I guess knowing that they’re investigating (or whatever it is they’re really doing…) is an improvement compared to the time when your old blog got murdered because at least you can do a backup now but… I mean, seriously? I hope everything will be fine.

    Did you end up watching the new Gaspar Noé film?

    I’ve just finished studying and I’m about to have a “Skype-beer” with Anita and another friend. It’s not like the real deal but I’m looking forward to it nonetheless.

    Okay, now I had to look up the drunken striptease dancer too and fuck! I’m here for that love any time, haha! Mysterious Skin’s Neil McCormick spitting into the mouth of another guy in high school love in return!

  6. Forgot to ask you; do you like ‘Climax’? The 2018 French film, I mean.

  7. Congraulations on the blog being back! Hope you can navigate this tricky period, it’s like Google all over again.

    I’ve not seen any of Spheeris’ films beyond Wayne’s World which I loved as a kid. Today’s Day helps me see there’s much more to her work than just that 90s froth. My folks do not get the idea of punk whatsoever but still, I put Decline of Western Civilization on my DVD rental list regardless. Lockdown family viewing is often fraught haha.

    Yes the UK restrictions are a fiasco but I am staying here indoors regardless. Hope the new Paris setup is something you can cope with ok.

  8. hi dc!! it’s going okay. i just finished a stint of holiday cover shifts at my local bookshop, which is absolutely one of my favourite bookshops. it recently became an employee-owned company which in theory should be good, but from what i can gather there’s a lot of drama and power struggle going on behind the scenes. i hope they pull through. picked up some great second-hand copies of Piranesi’s Prisons, a book on puppetry and object theatre, and a bright pink DVD of Pink Flamingos(!!!).

    anything else… i treated myself to a BFIPlayer subscription, now that i’m not at the Barbican often enough to borrow their dvds. they have a japan season going on rn. i’m q weak on film so i’m trying to brush up (between midnight and 2am haha). so far, _Ghost in the Shell_ (which i first watched when i was 7), Obayashi’s _Hausu_, Kurosawa’s _Cure_ (wow), Herzog’s _Nosferatu_ (WOW), and the Safdie’s _Heaven Knows What_ have been superb. i’m planning a big Ozu dive, more Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and there’s a new film on there called _Koko-di Koko-da_ which looks great.

    i’m really sorry to hear about all the WordPress shit. i hope you get to save as much of the blog as possible. have you managed to get a break, do anything interesting?

  9. Not again with puritans getting offended by the blog! Corporate monopolies’ control of the Internet has gotten worse and worse.

    Which Noe film did you see? I’d read that he was planning to expand the 60-minute film that played at Cannes into a feature.

    Errol Morris’ son Hamilton collaborated with him on the Leary film in some fashion. It focuses on the period when Leary was in prison and then collaborated with the US government and sounds like a really unflattering depiction of him. I wish I could find the article I read about it again and link it here.

    I had an exterminator come over today due to mice taking refuge in my apartment building when the weather in New York got colder a week ago. On Sunday, I was lying in bed watching TV when I looked down and saw 4 mice running around my bedroom. I don’t want to kill animals, but this is out of control. Anyway, he put down poisoned bait traps.

  10. DC, hi. Love your work. Currently at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, sharing with everyone I know your poetry and novels. It is the gospel. Would kill to someday chat or collab. with you. Dope blog.

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