John Lydon in Tabbert Fiiller's documentary "The Public Image Is Rotten."
"Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols," the 1977 debut and ultimate album by the title punk rock band, sounds kind of like a classic rock album today - particularly if you don't pay too much attention to the words. The crunchy power chords, the pummeling rhythm section - it's all conventionally head-banging.
But the earliest post-Pistols musical efforts of Johnny Rotten (also known by his real name John Lydon) - the band's lead vocalist and architect of punk iconography - did not then, and never will, sound like classic rock. "The Public Image Is Rotten," a documentary directed by Tabbert Fiiller, has some valuable insights into how the spectacular 1979 album variously known as "Metal Box" and "Second Edition" was made by Mr. Lydon's band Public Image Ltd. But it is mostly a portrait of Mr. Lydon, now 62 and still a witty, mercurial figure fascinated by commercial fame and constantly wrestling with the challenge of making viable art within that framework.
This documentary doesn't get too wonky about the process by which the masterpiece "Metal Box," and subsequent mixed-bag records, was achieved, but it does chronicle juicy clashes between Mr. Lydon and his former colleagues Jah Wobble, Keith Levene and Martin Atkins, all of whom get a say in the proceedings. As do subsequent Public Image enablers, the protean producer and bassist Bill Laswell and the genuine classic rock drummer Ginger Baker - Mr. Lydon's roster of collaborators over the decades has been eclectic. Even if you've scratched your head over Mr. Lydon's TV ad work and other efforts to maintain a professional life in recent years, this affectionate and frank movie can elicit newfound admiration for a slightly mellowed iconoclast.