Penelope Spheeris Reveals Bands She Became a Fan of Through Filming
Filmmaker Penelope Spheeris was the guest on Full Metal Jackie's radio show over the weekend, stopping by to discuss We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'n' Roll, a documentary she shot that gives behind the scenes insight into Ozzfest '99. The film was never released upon its initial completion, but has been getting some theatrical showings with the approval of the Osbourne family over this past year, with a wider release eventually expected.
Spheeris, who also is known for her Decline of Western Civilization documentaries and helming the live action comedy Wayne's World, shares why the metal community makes such a fascinating subject, offers some anecdotes about the crazy things that happened while filming and reveals the acts that she came to become a fan of over the course of filming.
The director also shares how her metal fandom impacted the '90s film hit Wayne's World, revealing moments where her specific input gave heavy music a bigger spotlight.
Check out the chat in full below. And keep an eye out for We Sold Our Soul for Rock N' Roll screenings, which feature such acts as Slipknot, Slayer, Rob Zombie, Primus, Buckethead, System of a Down, Godsmack and Static-X among others.
It's Full Metal Jackie. We've got filmmaker extraordinaire, Penelope Spheeris on the show with us tonight. I'm really glad to have you on the show. Longtime fan of your work. Obviously, you filmed the Ozzfest 99 documentary We Sold Our Souls for Rock N Roll which is making it to screens and also directed the marvelous Decline of Western Civilization as well. Penelope, what is it about metal culture that made it such a fascinating subject for you to film?
I guess probably just the fact that it's kind of hardcore and aggressive and helps me get my anger out and I like to watch all the other pissed off people have fun.
You're uniting all of the pissed off people together?
Yeah. I don't know. It sounds like something that happened in Washington D.C. but go on.
Not only did you examine Ozzfest 99, but you're also known for The Decline of Western Civilization, which examined metal culture at the end of the '70s into the '80s. Two very different films from very different times. But what were some of the similarities and major differences you found between not only the bands, but the culture of who the fans were of these acts?
If we're talking about similarities and differences between the first Decline, the second Decline, and then Ozzfest 99 which is called We Sold Our Souls for Rock N Roll, I'm gonna say the similarity is that I've noticed every single generation of teenagers and young 20s all have that same kind of energy that they have to get out and display and work through and that's what I've noticed over the years is that each generation has that.
And I guess the differences, the Decline part to the metal years was a little fluffier, a little softer than, you know, Decline I or We Sold our Souls and that was just what was going on at the time here in L.A. was that hair metal thing, you know? I like to document human behavior and try to figure out why people do what the hell they do, and that's what gets me going and then I use music as the backdrop.
It's interesting in the film that Rob Zombie mentioned being part of this tour instead of being at Woodstock '99. Heavy music was definitely dominating the world and in the case of Woodstock '99, it was sometimes portrayed in a negative light. What was your experience with Ozzfest '99 and how do you reflect on it now 20 plus years removed from that event?
Well, when I did this film, we started shooting in the summer of '99 and I went out. We had our own tour bus. We had our six-person crew, and I went out on the road with Sharon (Osbourne) driving the bus. No, she wasn't driving the bus. Sharon Osbourne was leading the path. Let's put it that way and we went to about 20 cities and in the film 10 bands every night and it was kind of like the experience of a lifetime. But then I worked on the cut. There's so many cuts in that movie, Jackie. It's like it's just unbelievable.
I saw it the other night for the first time in 20 years that the Motion Picture Academy Museum screening room and man that thing kicks ass. I hate to say that as it's my own work, but it really does and I'm just like I found that the world hasn't seen it yet but Sharon says she's gonna get it released now and she calls it a historical document because in the movie you've got all these bands that back in '99 were just these baby upcoming bands, you know, like Slipknot, System of a Down and Static-X and there was other bands too that were older but right now, those bands I just mentioned are huge compared to what they were back then.
Here's the thing. I can't believe when the movie didn't get released 20 years ago, I laid in bed and cried for three months. I swear to God. I was so depressed, but you know if I had to choose whether it would be released now, or back then I would say now, because it is a historical document.
Penelope, touring the country offers you some unique opportunities and I want to know, which was a more surreal moment for you: hanging with Slipknot at the Lincoln Memorial or capturing Buckethead's visit to a New Orleans cemetery while he talks through a chicken mask on his head? Any other cool outside of the tour moments over that summer?
Static X got their tour bus repoed during the tour. My cameraman quit halfway through, and it was you know, you just have to swap the slides away whenever they come in. There's always something you didn't expect out there.
There was a time when we were shooting, because we had the first handheld high-definition Sony camera and they were then, probably now too, but like $200,000. And some dude was running toward us and he had like this Big Gulp cup in his hand and I didn't know what he was going to do and then he got closer and closer. I'm like, oh, man, he's gonna throw this at the camera. So, then I put my body in front of the camera, and dude tossed the liquid inside and it was pee. I know I got pissed on really bad because he drank a whole bunch of beers. But I saved the camera. So, that was kind of cool.
Something like that was happening. There were fires that happen and people passing out sliding down the hill upside down in the rain. I mean, it was crazy crap.
Penelope, with time passing and a chance to revisit this documentary with its theatrical release, are there things in the film you wish were better represented or material left over that you wish you could have included?
When we shot this we shot four cameras and it was my first experience after having a lifetime in film, shooting hot video where you could just keep shooting and shooting and shooting and as I was shooting everything, I didn't realize, Oh, I gotta go through 283 hours of tape, and so that was a challenge.
Do I think there's anything on the editing room floor? That's better than in the movie? No, I don't because then we went through it with a fine-tooth comb, and I think that's why the movie. I don't feel comfortable complimenting myself, but you know that movie is really good. I said it to Sharon the other day. I don't think I could do that again today.
I mean, it's a good thing we did it back then. Anyway, I mean, I don't have any regrets. It used to be I regretted that the film wasn't released and my favorite saying is you never know if something's bad or good until some time has passed and as brokenhearted as I was back then when that film was not released, I would still pick today instead of then because it means so much more now, you know?
Totally, 100 percent. Everything is changed and everything sucks now. It's nice to revisit.
I'm glad you said it, not me. Yeah. You know what, in the Decline part three, it starts out with this guy... No, I forgot what movie it's in, but it's like I said, so what's going on with you? And he goes, everything sucks. You're quoting one of my movies. Yeah.
Oh no, I say that all the time. Penelope as a documentary director, you're there to document but those of us who spend time interviewing or hanging with bands, there gets to be some acts you come to love for having spent time with them. As some of these groups were just starting out, did you become a fan of any of these acts over the course of shooting a documentary or even perhaps change an opinion of on any certain act having this new access?
When I did Decline two I really wanted to have a different band. Well, it was going to be Guns N Roses. Okay and Slash and I were talking about them being the final act in the film and then their manager pulled out. I don't like to say that they pulled out. But anyway, he pulled out at the last minute and so I scrambled, and I wanted there to be a heavier band in there than a lot of the you know, more poppy fluffy bands and so we got Megadeth and I became a heavy duty Megadeth fan after that.
Then you know when we did We Sold Our Souls, I became a Static-X fan. I still see you play that song, "Push it" all the time and yeah, I mean, I'm a Buckethead groupie. That dude is kick ass on guitar and of course I always love Sabbath that was from since they began and you know when I always love Motorhead too. So, I mean, I've been a fan of a lot of these bands forever.
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Your love of heavy music took you beyond the documentary world getting a chance to direct Wayne's World. Obviously, the movie evolved off of characters created for Saturday Night Live by Mike Myers. But were there moments where your own personal love of hard rock and metal had a chance to make it into a scene?
Oh, well, I've read the other day and I wasn't really aware of it. But I guess that soundtrack album was like top of the chart at one point so I hate complimenting myself. But you know the Wayne's World soundtrack, I probably picked 90 percent of the songs on there. You know, I mean, "Ballroom Blitz" was complimenting myself.
Wayne's World trailer
You deserve to be complimented! And by the way, it's an amazing soundtrack. I still love that soundtrack.
I feel like it's bad luck, to compliment myself. But anyway, yeah, the tracks in Wayne's World, I had to fight for a lot of them that like "Foxey Lady," okay. They didn't want me to use "Foxey Lady" for when Garth sees Donna Dixon his dream girl, right? And I fought like hell for that because I knew I could make it work and Dana Carvey smacked it out of the ballpark when he did his humping dance, you know?
But as far as you know, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is always when everybody thinks of in Wayne's World, but that was in the script when I got a script and I believe that was Mike Meyers idea to put that song in the film, but it was my idea to film it that way, the way with them banging their heads like that and Mike didn't really like doing that. He thought it wasn't funny, but it was funny.
I want to say one more thing about Wayne's World though and that's it because I'm done with that movie. I finished it a while back. Gary Wright did "Dream Weaver" as you know, and he passed away recently unfortunately, but it was so weird when I got the script. "Dream Weaver" was also in the script and it was a choice of Mike Myers and I had sort of, just coincidentally, I did the original performance video of "Dream Weaver" and "Love Is Alive" for Gary Wright in the early '70s. I shot those guys down in San Diego at a huge stadium for Warner Brothers Records and then when I got the script, I'm like, oh my god, I got "Dream Weaver" again. And such a pivotal part of the movie. And, you know, it was perfect. It was so perfect.
Wayne’s World was one of those movies that if it's on, there's a couple of favorites over the years that if you happen to find it on you can't you have to watch it all the way through, you have to watch it all the way through. PS and this is one I used to like actually going to movie theaters. When that movie came out, we went and saw it numerous times. We snuck into the theater a couple of times. So, because I was like, you know, in high school or whatever and we saw that movie so many times because it was just so great and I think it like captured the time and this genre and it had a great soundtrack and it was just such great film. Really great film.
Thank you. We all lucked out with that. It was just the perfect coming together of the perfect people at a perfect time. You know, there's no explaining when something catches on like that. It was in the zeitgeist, something happened and all of a sudden everybody loves Wayne's World and I'm really glad because that's why I can build all these houses. I'm still getting money from Paramount for Wayne's World.
Can you tell us the plans for the release of the Ozzfest '99 documentary We Sold Our Souls for Rock N Roll?
I would love to tell you the plans but the fact of the matter is we don't know yet and I will say this though, check out what Taylor Swift just did. You know, I'm not a Swifty. Okay, you know me. I'm not a Swifty. But I don't mean to piss those guys off because there's too many of them. But the thing is, she did a film while she was on that "Eras" tour. They did a movie and now it pre sold $26 million in tickets to the AMC chain. So, my point is, I think concert films in theaters now or even, like the Greek theater type venues could really do well. When I say we I mean, Sharon and I and her team are discussing now how the film might get released. But it sounds like it's imminent. Let's put it that way.
Awesome. Well, keep us posted and Penelope you know again, such an honor to speak to you. I appreciate you taking the time and I can't wait for the release for this documentary.
Oh, me too because you know, it's been a long time.
Yeah, it was time before everything sucked.
I like you Jackie. Yeah, you're right. Everything sucks and I'm not gonna take it anymore! Ha.