The Decline of Western Civilization (Penelope Spheeris, 1981)

BAM’s ongoing series Punks, Poets & Valley Girls: Women Filmmakers in 1980s America provides a remarkable overview of not only the vibrant film culture of the decade, but also of ’80s pop culture more broadly. The films on view are studded with the cutting-edge fashions, and, of course, the music of the era. The series features a number of movies with stellar soundtracks: Lizzie Borden’s 1983 Born in Flames (which takes its title from a Red Krayola/Mayo Thompson-produced Lara Logic track), Penelope Spheeris’s Decline of Western Civilization docs, Sara Driver’s dreamy No-Wave Sleepwalk, and Elaine May’s epic tale of pathetic men Ishtar. (Disappointingly, “Dangerous Business” has never received an official release. Perhaps whatever world-gobbling multi-national that currently owns the Capitol Records catalogue can take care of this oversight?) Our Film Comment Playlist jumps off from the post-punk and punk mentioned above, while also taking some side-roads to sample the sounds of, say, Barbra Streisand’s Yentl. Rare is the opportunity to place Babs alongside the varied likes of Kathy Acker, Sparks, Megadeth, John Lurie, and the Circle Jerks.

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Clinton Krute is Film Comment’s digital editor.