Penelope Spheeris Retrospective

CIMMfest - The Chicago International Movies and Music FestivalPenelope Spheeris has been a badass from the moment she picked up a camera. Waiting tables at Denny’s and IHOP to put herself through UCLA film school, she made a string of stylistically and thematically daring short films in the late ’60s and early ’70s. After earning a Master of Fine Arts degree, she formed Rock ‘n Reel, the first LA production company specializing in music videos.

Since then she’s straddled the divide between indie outlaw and Hollywood insider like no one else. Just consider her two most famous films: the seismic, self-made punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization and the megahit goof-off Wayne’s World, which made her a go-to director of mainstream comedies through the ’90s.

It’s the outlaw side of Spheeris we celebrate at CIMMfest No. 9, starting with Decline, a riveting portrait of youth in revolt. Featuring X, Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, the Germs, and Fear, it kicked off her landmark trilogy of LA music docs — she went on to excavate the decadent ’80s metal scene in The Decline of Western Civilization Part II and empathetically examine the lives of ’90s “gutter punks” in Part III. (A fourth chapter is in the works.)

All the while, Spheeris was making independent features like SuburbiaThe Boys Next Door, and Dudes that reflected her continuing fascination with punk and squatter cultures and the alienation, anger, and loyalty within them. In 1999 she immersed herself in another musical tribe, spending a summer capturing the metal mania of Ozzfest for We Sold Our Souls for Rock ‘n Roll, a super-rare theatrical showing of which caps our tribute to a consummate rock ‘n’ reeler.

Penelope Spheeris Retrospective