Alarcon saw a few things last month – some were good, some were great, and some you can pass on. This is your ongoing summer viewing guide. There will be spoilers.
Starring: Toby Wallace, Anson Boon, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Sydney Chandler
I’ve written (and deleted) several 1,000-word reviews on Pistol and they were all negative. How could they not be? Every scene of Danny Boyle’s reimagined take on the Sex Pistols is embellished and juiced for maximum pleasure. It’s a bummer if your kink is accuracy.
(If you’re like me, you’ve read all of the Pistols’ band member autobiographies, and you’ve logged in hours upon hours of watching interviews and documentaries about this band. You’ve heard the Sex Pistols’ origin story from everyone’s angle: Malcolm McLaren, Viv Westwood, Richard Branson, Jamie Reid, Jordan, Chrissie Hynde… Their stories of the past don’t always align, but it’s easy to piece the facts together and develop a fairly accurate timeline of how the Sex Pistols lit England on fire only to burn out themselves three years later. If you’re also like me, upon its first viewing, Pistol is utterly disorienting and disappointing.)
Still, I kept reading positive, rave reviews of the six-episode miniseries, some from intelligent people with refined taste. So I watched Pistol again – my fourth viewing.
This time, I viewed the series as if it were written and directed by an excitable teenage fan-fiction writer with an unlimited budget who based their entire script on Steve Jones’ autobiography (Lonely Boy: Tales from a Sex Pistol, 2016). Each episode begins with a title card reminding us that it was “inspired by actual events,” but it should be read as a warning. I found that Pistol went down a lot easier when viewed with that frame of mind.
Yet for all of its convoluted tales and fabricated storylines, Pistol is a stunner to look at – Boyle hit the nail on the head there. There are moments during the live performances of those early Pistols bar gigs which Boyle recreated that look as if it’s real archival footage. Boyle also slips in samples of old film (such as 1969’s The Italian Job) along with stylized filters, which gives the entire production a subtle DIY sheen that didn’t seem forced.
If you can trick your brain into watching Pistol as a fictitious punk rock fairytale, you’ll get much more enjoyment out of this five-hour series. The thing is, the real Sex Pistols story doesn’t need to be exaggerated – the truth is far more interesting than anything Boyle could ever imagine.