It goes without saying that Malcolm Robert Andrew McLaren was at the forefront of the punk rock movement that revolutionised the British music scene in the late 70s. However, this was only part of his complicated and often controversial life. So, to tie in with the 40th anniversary of the birth of punk rock, director Phil Strongman has produced a two hour long homage to the man's life and the interwoven path it took with long time companion, designer Vivienne Westwood.

Starting by interviewing McLaren's half brother, the film sets out to chronicle the circumstances that would heavily influence his thinking and actions in later life. These include the home education by his domineering grandmother, his Art School years, introduction to Situationism and his initial dislike of Westwood. Particularly, the influence on him of the political situation prevailing in the 60's is explained in some detail, touching on the protests against the Vietnam War, the Paris '68 riots and the actions of the Angry Brigade, which are explained by interviews with various participants.

The film shows how he was able to remain in art college for eight years by simply applying for courses in different names, and the fact that McLaren subsequently had to change his name from Malcolm Edwards, after being caught shoplifting, as a criminal record would have stopped him relocating to New York to satisfy his yearning to be the British Andy Warhol. Using footage of a lecture he gave shortly before his death, in his own words he tells how he accidently started his first business selling Teddy Boy clothes on the Kings Road, a shop that was later to become the iconic Sex..

Talking heads, in the shape of Marco Pirroni, Dave Barbarossa and Leigh Gorman (Adam & the Ants), Glen Matlock and Paul Cook (Sex Pistols), Boy George, Adam Ant, Don Letts, Tony Wilson, Bob Gruen and band confidantes give their recollections of events at the time. And, when added to vintage film of assistants Jordan and Helen of Troy changing into the fetish wear Sex was selling, you get a flavour of the subversion that such an establishment caused in the ultra conservative Britain of the times.

By 1975 McLaren was living across the pond and briefly managed the proto punk band New York Dolls, which gave him the chance to dress them in his apparel, but with limited success. However, on his return to London, he found that Westwood had started producing what essentially were the first punk clothes with shirts adorned with Situationist slogans, pictures of Communist icons and swastikas. The death of long hair and flares was imminent and the birth of the Sex Pistols was around the corner. This was a band he said who couldn't play, with a singer who couldn't sing, but were partly cloth horses for Westwood's designs.

The history of the band is recounted in great detail. The raucous nature of their early gigs, the Bill Grundy show, record label hirings and firings, "Never Mind the Bollocks", the ill-fated US tour, McLaren's fractious relationship with John (Rotten) Lydon and the ultimate death of Sid Vicious are all touched on to the backdrop of the burgeoning punk fashion scene being steered by Vivienne Westwood's clothes.

The fallout from the demise of the band briefly saw McLaren exiled to Paris. However, he returned to London to take the reins of the career of another, if less successful, punk icon in Adam Ant. This eventually ended painfully with Adam being fired by McLaren from his own band. The remaining members became the core of Bow Wow Wow, along with 14 year old singer Annabella Lu Win. This would lead to (planned) controversy with McLaren using a nude Win in a recreation of Édouard Manet’s painting Le déjeuner sur l'herbe for the cover of the band's single "Go Wild in the Country".

By 1982 McLaren had lost interest in management and started a fledgling solo career, although carefully orchestrated to dovetail in with Westwood's pirate/buffalo/savages fashion collection. However strains in their relationship started to show and eventually Westwood threw all his possession out of the matrimonial home. An unsuccessful stint in Hollywood is briefly mentioned, as was his attempt to run for London mayor.


The film concludes with Malcolm's premature death in 2010 from asbestos related cancer, reflecting on his affect not only of music and fashion, but art and advertising. My only gripe about the film is that there is little original music, presumably because of cost. However, it beautifully highlights the fact that, love him or loathe him, he had the most dominant role in the birth of a music genre that rocked the musical establishment to a point that its effect can still be felt today.

Malcolm McLaren RIP, a true cultural Anarchist.