When Andy Lee and I decided to do a film about London’s first mayoral race and particularly front-runner Malcolm McLaren, I was under no illusions. Malcolm had a difficult reputation and though I had spoken to him a few times about his thoughts on the coming millennium, we had never actually met. Still, I was impressed with his gift of gab and figured he’d be a live wire and fun to document.
As we started researching for the film, it became clear that he was not too popular with a lot of people. The Sex Pistols didn’t like him, so we opted to not try and interview any of the remaining musicians. Why alienate the candidate from the start? But we needn’t have worried. Early on his political team supplied us with the theme song by the O Levels, “We Love Malcolm.” [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLUm3nZetto]
Its ironic lyrics underscore the low expectations…We Love Malcolm, repeats until its followed by the refrain, cause no one else does.
Most recently I read comments by his ex-partner fashion designer, Dame Vivienne Westwood, about his cruelty to her and her son. Well, he’s gone now, having acquired a type of cancer from asbestos and can’t defend himself, though I don’t think he would have anyway.
Malcolm wasn’t an easy subject to catch …in MALCOLM McLAREN: NOT FOR SALE we chased him around London, where he failed to show up more than once for an interview. Frank Jarvis, an actor from the original version of The Italian Job worked at one shooting location, the legendary Green Room actors’ club, and kindly stepped in to give us his opinions about London’s political climate. But when we did track McLaren down at the London School of Economics, holding court in a Harris Tweed suit, he was hard to ignore. Malcolm identified himself entirely with a Dickensian spirit of London and seemed very proud that the Punk period did so much to raise Britain’s economy. He also posed the question to the students of how an artist might fare in politics (think Havel, not Reagan).
As a follower of Guy Debord and the French Situationists, Malcolm was interested in the public’s need for the authentic. One of his campaign promises was to eliminate the false ‘karaoke world’ that was taking over the world. He was concerned for the fate of the many libraries closing down and suggested serving Guinness in the stacks to keep them open.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a terrific Punk costume show, with many of the original designs created by McLaren and Westwood for their Chelsea shop. But it’s hard to get underneath the mastermind that contributed so much to that period by only seeing the clothes. He is meant to be experienced.
Malcolm never did throw his hat in the ring for mayor. At the final hour, 10,000 pounds was more than his commitment would go, though he took credit for an independent, Ken Livingstone, entering and winning the race.
When he did show up, his rant was brimming with ideas. I could barely get a word in; he would have been an epic filibuster-er.