2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app

The Sex Pistols versus the soft porn king: why the Who Killed Bambi? movie was dead on arrival

How a boob-obsessed Hollywood director, a drug-addled Sid Vicious, and a dead deer almost made one the strangest rock movies of all time

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The Sex Pistols performing on the Thames in 1977
The Sex Pistols performing on the Thames in 1977 Credit: Rex

In 1977, Malcolm McLaren hatched a plan to popularise the Sex Pistols in the United States. Eschewing the traditional route of a high-profile album, singles, and arduous coast-to-coast tours, the group’s manager instead decided that a feature film was the surest route to superstardom for his unruly charges. With this, Who Killed Bambi? was born. 

McLaren’s strategy wasn’t wholly deranged. In 1964, The Beatles released A Hard Day’s Night, the first of four films that helped the Fab Four reach the kinds of places that their three chaotic US tours did not. It would also surely not have escaped the impresario’s attention that in 1977 RSO released the soundtrack album of the low-budget movie Saturday Night Fever and duly sold 27-million albums across the globe, more than half of which were bought in the States. As well as this, the LP’s success turned the previously mid-range Bee Gees into cultural icons. 

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appBut the Sex Pistols were a trickier proposition. In the US at least, the London quartet were facing a standing start. Their debut album, Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols, had failed to crack the Billboard Hot 100. There were also problems of presentation; the Pistols did not want to hold your hand, and by the looks of them they weren’t all that bothered about staying alive. To complicate matters further, the group were fast becoming unmanageable. When front man Johnny Rotten sang “we are ruled by none”, on the excoriating EMI, he meant it. 

But Malcolm McLaren was nothing if not imaginative. Regarding his own ignorance of the film business as a shortcoming that need not detain him, the manager cast as director Russ Meyer2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app, the 55-year old filmmaker responsible for such cult capstones as Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, and Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls. Meyer’s status as the king of American B-movie soft-porn kitsch masked a hawkish streak.

A one-time news cameraman during the Korean war, when working in London the director spent his spare weekends flying to the continent to visit US army graves. By comparison, the Pistols wore t-shirts with Swastikas on the front. 

The Sex Pistols in 1977 Credit: alamy

“It was just thought [by McLaren] that it would be a great idea to have that polar clash between American fascism, or whatever Meyer represents, and the Sex Pistols,” said filmmaker Julien Temple, the group’s documentarian. “[It was] big tits meets Johnny Rotten.”

When it came to the script for Who Killed Bambi?, Russ Meyer had in mind Roger Ebert, a screenwriter and movie critic for the Chicago Sun-Times whose writings on film had won him the Pulitzer Prize just two years earlier. Ebert met with the director and Malcolm McLaren in Hollywood; after listening to their ideas he would then stay up all night typing the movie’s script. It was alleged by Temple that rather than pay his writer, Meyer instead offered the ‘personal services’ of the actors Ann Marie and Linda Ashton, both of whom had appeared in his movies. 

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appRoger Ebert first heard about the film after its director called him at home in Chicago at six in the morning. 

“Have you heard of the Sex Pistols?” he was asked. 

“No.”

“They’re a rock band from England,” Meyer explained. “They got a lot of publicity for swearing on TV. Now they have some money and they want me to direct their movie.”

Russ Meyer with his fiancee Edie Williams, in 11970 Credit: getty

The Sex Pistols had indeed garnered a great deal of publicity for swearing at presenter Bill Grundy on the Today programme. Not all of it was helpful. As councils up and across the country moved to shut down more than a dozen dates on the Anarchy Tour, the difficulties facing audiences wishing to see the group perform were to prove the genesis of Malcolm McLaren’s idea for a film. 

By the summer of 1977, the Pistols’ notoriety had blossomed to the point that, on the week of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, their single God Save The Queen was kept off the number one spot by Rod Stewart’s The First Cut Is The Deepest despite credible reports that the official BRMB chart had been rigged. A raucous boat party on the Thames in honour of the song’s release attracted the attention of the Metropolitan Police, who duly arrested 11 revelers. 

While such furor was detrimental to a group who wanted to play music, it was good news indeed for Malcolm McLaren. As the British media ascended into a frenzy of the vapours, the impresario set to work harvesting ‘cash from chaos’. With interest in the Sex Pistols on the rise, the budget for Who Killed Bambi? grew from an initial £150,000 to something approaching a million dollars following investment from Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox. 

But as with everything McLaren touched, the details were opaque. “They never really knew [what the budget was] because McLaren had no conception of what it would cost,” Russ Meyer said. 

“I think he [McLaren] intended it to be a Russ Meyer film using the Sex Pistols, whereas Malcolm obviously intended it to be a Sex Pistols film using Russ Meyer,” said Julien Temple. “So there was a basic conflict from the start. Meyer was very excited by it. He thought it would be the film that would crown his career.”

The Sex Pistols signing their record contract with Malcolm McLaren in 1977 Credit: pa

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appThe story of Who Killed Bambi? concerned an ageing rock star who kills a deer with which to feed the poor; unbeknownst to him, his quarry was beloved of a young girl who, by way of retribution, resorts to murder. In preparation for filming, the crew were permitted by a game reserve to cull a deer; a squeamish focus-puller was fired from the set by Meyer, who viewed his reservations as being ‘anti-American’. The grisly image of the slain animal, an arrow in its neck, was later used by the Pistols for use on the rear sleeve of the album The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle. 

“Apparently they spent three days tracking down this deer until they found the right one, and Meyer shot it himself,” said Julien Temple in a comment he would live to regret after the director sued for libel. Temple later apologised in a full-page advert in Screen International.

“I don’t give a shit about damages,” Meyer told Roger Ebert (pictured below). “I want to clear my name. I don’t go around shooting deers with pistols.”

Credit: getty

In a plot that appears determined the shock, Who Killed Bambi? cast Marianne Faithfull as bassist Sid Vicious’ mother. Vicious had no qualms about the prospect of filming sex scenes with Faithfull – he was even accused by the director of having slept with his own mother  - but drew the line at footage of the pair injecting heroin despite both being junkies.  

The director’s job was made more difficult still by the mutinous mood of the Pistols’ camp. Johnny Rotten detested Malcolm McLaren and thus detested the idea of Russ Meyer directing the picture. “[He] was just going to turn it into a tits-and-arse movie,” he said. “I didn’t want to be part of his regime.” Following a dinner in London at which the singer swore relentlessly and complained theatrically about his food, Meyer described Rotten as being “absolutely nuts.” 

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“[Johnny Rotten] was such a liability,” said Julien Temple. “Meyer got very nervous about working with him because of the total gap of understanding between them. I mean, Rotten was planning things like the clothes he’d wear. He wanted to be a hippie. He was buying these big old platform shoes and getting big, flared, flowery bell-bottoms to totally f___ you up because he was supposed to be there as the punk incarnate. So the task of actually making the film would have been very, very difficult.

“The film was one of the major causes of a rift in the group that led to [their] break-up,” he said. “It… became clear that Malcolm was spending 90-percent of his time on the film and about 10-percent on managing the group.” 

The Sex Pistols album The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle

By the time the band arrived in the United States in the first month of 1978 for their inaugural American tour, the Pistols were a shambles. A dope-sick Sid Vicious appeared onstage at the Dallas Longhorn Ballroom with the words "gimme a fix" written on his chest, his nose bleeding profusely from a head-butt delivered by a member of the audience. Speaking to K-SAN FM, Johnny Rotten told the station’s listeners “I don’t like rock music. I don’t know why I’m in it. I just want to destroy everything.”

The Sex Pistols disbanded following a concert at the Winterland Ball in San Francisco on January 14th. Rotten left the stage with the words “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”, a question that had certainly crossed the mind of Russ Meyer. Despite the surety of a weekly salary, and the knowledge that sets had been built, the director called Roger Ebert and told him that Malcolm McLaren had made false promises about the film’s funding and was, in fact, broke. 

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“After this huge build-up and a lot of money being spent on sets being built, and props being made, and units being got together, and Meyer being paid, they shot for three days and the thing caved in,” recalled Julien Temple. “[There was] a lot of acrimony between Malcolm and Meyer. By that stage Meyer thought Malcolm was a mad communist anti-American lunatic and he was demanding more and more money because the thing looked risky. Meyer was very, very angry when it fell through. [He] kept referring to Malcolm as Hitler.”

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围appMeyer believed that McLaren abandoned Who Killed Bambi? because “he realised… that the picture couldn’t be made.” As if the project’s many clashes of cultures weren’t quite stark enough, in his book Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Films, author Jimmy McDonough posits that the film’s finances collapsed after the Princess of Monaco, Grace Kelly, a major stockholder at 20th Century Fox, told the company “we don’t want to make another Meyer X [rated] film”.  

2020欧洲杯体育足彩外围app“Princess Grace… despises me,” said the director. “She was going to pull out all support of Fox in Europe.”

Malcolm McLaren did eventually realise his ambition of making a movie about the Sex Pistols. Released in 1979, The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle, directed by Julien Temple and shown in the below trailer, even featured a few unidentified seconds of footage shot for Who Killed Bambi? 

But this is all that remains of the impresario’s grand folly. Today the concept is remembered, if it is remembered at all, for the Sex Pistols’ song of the same name, sung in a supremely bizarre fashion by Edward Tudor-Pole, the front man with British two-hit wonders Tenpole Tudor. By then, Johnny Rotten had founded the fascinating Public Image Ltd., and in one of the more remarkable escape acts in modern music had maneuvered himself free from the corner into which he had been painted with his previous band. 

Stranded, guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook, and Malcolm McLaren limped along in a sorry fashion that might well have destroyed the group’s legacy were it not for the sheer incorruptibility of Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols. Perhaps determined to ‘go Hollywood’ in at least one sense, McLaren filed suit against Russ Meyer in response to legal action from the director. But there seemed to be no hard feelings. “McLaren was sincere,” Meyer said. “He really was a zealot. He had fire in his eyes.” 

This piece is part of Behind the Music – a weekly series celebrating music's untold stories, from band-splitting feuds to the greatest performances of all time. 

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The Sex Pistols versus the soft porn king: why the Who Killed Bambi? movie was dead on arrival