Penelope Spheeris made a name for herself in Hollywood as the director of Wayne’s World, but it’s her The Decline Of Western Civilization documentary series that she calls “my life’s work.” Beginning with The Decline Of Western Civilization, Spheeris’ eyewitness account of the vital Los Angeles punk scene circa 1979-1980, she produced two followups. First there’s The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, a flashy 1988 documentary about the hair-metal movement featuring a devastating interview with W.A.S.P.’s Chris Holmes and Gene Simmons being his usual asshole self. Then there’s The Decline Of Western Civilization Part III, Spheeris’ 1998 documentary about the hardscrabble lives of teenage gutter punks. All three are exceptional, both as musical and as cultural documentaries. Plus, you get to see Darby Crash and Ozzy Osbourne cooking breakfast.
The Decline movies, particularly The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, still pop up occasionally in late-night cable showings, but the first two films only ever saw release on VHS. (The Decline Of Western Civilization Part III never got a home-video release, period.) But punks being punks, the movies still get around thanks to the underground bootleg market. As Spheeris told The A.V. Club in an interview back in 1999:
I have the rights now, but for a while there, they were all being bootlegged. I went to a swap meet a couple weeks ago, and some guy had copies of [The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years] spread out on the ground with the rest of his freaky videos, so I picked it up, and he said, “Well, if you like that one, maybe you’ll like this one, as well.” So he brought out the first Decline, which he obviously didn’t have the right to distribute, either. So I grabbed four other videos that I wanted for my own personal collection and I left. And he goes, “Wait a minute, you forgot to pay me.” And I said, “No, you forgot to pay me.”
Now the various rights issues that were holding back the films’ release have been worked out, and Shout! Factory is releasing the Decline Of Western Civilization movies in DVD and Blu-ray boxed sets. Each film has received a 2k restoration and comes with extended interviews and commentary from Dave Grohl for whatever reason. (He knows Pat Smear, we guess.) The Decline Of Western Civilization Collection is due out on June 30, 2015.