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The Decline of Western Civilization

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The Decline of Western Civilization
Film poster depicting Germs singer Darby Crash
Directed byPenelope Spheeris
Written byPenelope Spheeris
Produced byGordon Brown
Jeff Prettyman
Penelope Spheeris
CinematographySteve Conant
Edited byCharlie Mullin
Distributed byNu-Image Film (theatrical)
Media Home Entertainment (home video)
Release date
  • July 1, 1981 (1981-07-01)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Decline of Western Civilization is a 1981 American documentary filmed through 1979 and 1980. The movie is about the Los Angeles punk rock scene and was directed by Penelope Spheeris. In 1981, the LAPD Chief of Police Daryl Gates wrote a letter demanding the film not be shown again in the city.[1]

The film's title is possibly a reference to music critic Lester Bangs' 1970 two-part review of the Stooges' album Fun House, for Creem magazine, where Bangs quotes a friend who had said the popularity of the Stooges signaled "the decline of Western civilization". Another possibility is that the title refers to Darby Crash's reading of Oswald Spengler's Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West).[2] In We Got the Neutron Bomb, an oral history of the L.A. punk rock scene collected by Marc Spitz, Claude Bessy aka: Kickboy, claims that he came up with the title.[3]

The film is the opening act of a trilogy by Spheeris, depicting music scenes in Los Angeles during the late 20th century. The second film, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988), covers the Los Angeles heavy metal scene of 1987–1988. The third film, The Decline of Western Civilization Part III (1998), chronicles the gutter punk lifestyle of homeless teenagers in the late 1990s.

In 2016, The Decline of Western Civilization was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry, being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[4][5]



Featuring concert footage of Los Angeles punk bands and interviews both with band members, the publishers of Slash fanzine, and with the punks who made up their audience, the film offers a look into a subculture that was largely ignored by the rock music press of the time.

The promotional poster for The Decline (and the record cover of the soundtrack album) featured a close-up frame of Germs singer Darby Crash supine on stage with his eyes closed. Crash died from a heroin-induced suicide shortly before the film was released (the poster was designed before his death).

Bands included are Black Flag, Germs, X, Alice Bag Band, the Circle Jerks, Catholic Discipline, and Fear. The Germs' performance was replicated in the 2007 Darby Crash biopic What We Do Is Secret.




The Decline of Western Civilization
Soundtrack album by
various artists
ReleasedDecember 1980
ProducerGary Hirstius and Alan Kutner
Professional ratings
Review scores

The soundtrack was released in December 1980 by Slash Records on LP. In the late 1990s it was released on CD as well. Germs singer Darby Crash appears on the soundtrack album cover. He died shortly before the film was released, though the promotional images for the film and album release had been designed before his death.

1."White Minority"Greg GinnBlack Flag2:27
2."Depression"GinnBlack Flag2:23
3."Revenge"GinnBlack Flag1:31
4."Manimal"Darby CrashGerms2:57
5."Underground Babylon" Catholic Discipline3:41
6."Beyond and Back"John Doe, Exene CervenkaX2:54
7."Johnny Hit and Run Paulene"Doe, CervenkaX2:49
8."We're Desperate"Doe, CervenkaX2:45
9."Red Tape"Keith Morris, Greg HetsonCircle Jerks1:42
10."Back Against the Wall"Morris, Hetson, Roger Rogerson, Lucky LehrerCircle Jerks1:33
11."I Just Want Some Skank"Morris, Hetson, Rogerson, LehrerCircle Jerks1:15
12."Beverly Hills"Morris, RogersonCircle Jerks1:15
13."Gluttony" Alice Bag Band3:45
14."I Don't Care About You"Lee VingFear3:45
15."I Love Livin' in the City"VingFear2:16
16."Fear Anthem"Ving / KeyFear0:33


  1. ^ "Penelope Spheeris Biography". PenelopeSpheeris.com. 2008. Retrieved June 28, 2022.
  2. ^ Brendan Mullen (January 4, 2001). "Annihilation Man". LA Weekly. Retrieved October 26, 2009.
  3. ^ Spitz, Marc (2001). We Got the Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press. p. 261. ISBN 0-609-80774-9.
  4. ^ "With "20,000 Leagues," the National Film Registry Reaches 700". Library of Congress. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  5. ^ "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
  6. ^ Henderson, Alex. The Decline of Western Civilization at AllMusic. Retrieved 5 March 2007.