The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Swindle remained fairly watchable but never better than that.
Some of that was inevitable due to the nature of the project. Not only did it incorporate a fair amount of archival footage, but also it was shot for a low budget. Sharpness lacked great definition. The shots rarely looked tremendously off, but they usually came across as fuzzy and soft. No real problems with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but some noticeable edge enhancement occasionally appeared.
Source flaws popped up inconsistently, but they created more than a few distractions. Various examples of specks, marks, hairs, nicks and debris occurred. These didn’t overwhelm, but they became a nuisance.
Colors consistently appeared flat and lifeless. The tones were bland throughout the film, as even Carnival sequences in Brazil lacked vivacity. Blacks were acceptably deep, but shadows looked dense and heavy. Objectively, I suppose Swindle probably looked about as good as one could expect for this sort of flick, but it remained a severely problematic image.
The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle presented an erratic and ultimately unsatisfying Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. To refer to this sucker as a multi-channel mix is a joke. For all intents and purposes, it was monaural. The audio broadened to the side and rear speakers solely in the form of vague echo. This served no useful purpose and just made the audio less focused and more unnatural.
It didn’t help that the track came with a serious case of excessive reverb that didn’t accompany the stereo mix also found on the DVD. This impaired the quality of the audio. Some speech - usually McLaren’s narration became almost unintelligible due to the metallic tones. Edginess also interfered, and I found it tough to discern what people said at times. Music lacked much dimensionality, as the songs were feeble and tinny much of the time. The songs could be rather shrill.
Effects showed similar issues but came marred by too much bass. Pretty much anything that appeared overwhelmed the mix. The low-end for the music was ill-defined and boomy, and the effects just displayed loud thumped indistinctly. This was a poor, almost unlistenable track.
Only a couple of extras pop up on Swindle. The main attraction comes from an audio commentary with director Julien Temple and rock writer Chris Salewicz; the latter mainly acts as an interviewer. Like the movie itself, this commentary occasionally springs to life, but usually it meanders and disappoints.
During the film’s first half, Temple provides a reasonable amount of information about the Pistols and the shooting of the movie. He gives us some background about the various situations and circumstances. This rarely becomes memorable, but it adds depth to the piece.
Unfortunately, many long pauses mar the commentary’s second half. The situation doesn’t change until we get to the point when the Pistols tour the US. Temple comes back to action then and offers quite a lot of good notes about various band politics and other concerns. This continues for much of the remaining discussion, as Temple tells us many insightful remarks that relate to the band after their demise in San Francisco. There’s good material here if you’re willing to suffer through the weak spots.
In addition, we get an interview with Temple. Conducted by Salewicz, this chat lasts 18 minutes and 58 seconds. Temple discusses the roots of punk rock and the Pistols’ place, getting involved with the Pistols and shooting them, planning and executing the film’s various elements, band politics and problems, and the goals of the film as well as additional issues.
Compared to the rambling commentary, this chat is quite tight and informative. Temple sticks mainly with the meat of the matters, and it’s good to find out what Temple wanted to do with the flick; I still think it’s a train wreck, but at least I can appreciate its take on the subject better. The interview largely fails to repeat notes from the commentary.
Really, the only complaint I have stems from the recording of the two participants. Salewicz sits much closer to the microphone, so when he speaks, it blows the volume levels sky high and becomes very loud and distorted. This is a sloppy and annoying touch.
If forced to pick a Sex Pistols song title to describe The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle, “Pretty Vacant” best applies. This is a pretty vacant project, as it lacks any depth and also fails to present much entertainment. The DVD offers fairly poor picture and audio along with some decent extras. Leave this stinker for Sex Pistols obsessives, as I can’t imagine anyone else will get anything from it.