Julien Temple was born in London in 1953. He had little interest in cinema until, while studying at King's College, Cambridge, he discovered the director who would become his lifelong hero: Jean Vigo. When he went on to the National Film and Television School, he encountered another and, for him, equally influential manifestation of the anarchist spirit: The Sex Pistols. During their short and turbulent life he became virtually their cinematic amanuensis, a process which culminated in his first feature The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle (1979).
By now, however, the band had already split acrimoniously and John Lydon/Johnny Rotten took no part in the film, which turned into something of a vehicle for Malcolm McLaren, the Pistols' erstwhile manager. Structured around this Situationist Svengali's ten lessons on fleecing the music business, the film deliriously juxtaposes footage of every conceivable kind in an effective evocation of the punk spirit, tossing counter-cultural heroes Ronnie Biggs and Mary Millington into the bizarre bricolage along with British cinema stalwarts Irene Handl and Liz Fraser.
In company with Temple's short films about punk, and in particular the wartime documentary parody Punk Can Take It (1979) - a theatrically released promo for the UK Subs, complete with narration by BBC voice-over veteran John Snagge - Swindle clearly heralded the arrival of a distinctive cinematic talent. However, it was also an unconventional talent, one which was to fall foul both of the set-'em-up-knock-'em down tactics of the British press, and, more particularly, of the same critical hostility to anything that departs from the realist norm which so bedevilled one of Temple's other heroes, Michael Powell.
The die was cast when Temple was offered Absolute Beginners (1986), another excursion into the musical sub-culture, this time based on Colin MacInnes' seminal 1950s novel. The film was produced by Steve Woolley of Palace Pictures for Goldcrest, and became inextricably caught up in the saga of Goldcrest's decline and fall. When it was released, the critics were vitriolic: its scant regard for the narrative structure of the novel made it a target for backlash against video promos and the 'three minute culture'; and there was animus against Temple himself, who had rather too assiduously followed McLaren's lesson seven in Swindle: 'cultivate hatred'. Admittedly the film is no masterpiece - endless production difficulties and too many writers make their visible mark on screen - but it is infinitely better than contemporaneous reviews and comment would suggest: a kinetic, imaginative and, above all, cinematic musical, something rare in British cinema.
Significantly, the film was much liked in America, where Temple went to make Earth Girls are Easy (1989) and a series of music promos - a field in which he had already established a considerable name for himself and which he regarded as a laboratory for ideas to be used in features. After making the thriller, Bullet, in 1995, he returned to Britain to make three films in short succession: the long planned Vigo - Passion for Life (UK/Japan/France/Spain/Germany, 1999); Pandaemonium (UK/US, 2000), a lyrical but unconventional account of the Coleridge/Wordsworth relationship; and The Filth and the Fury (UK/US, 2000), a return to the Sex Pistols saga, replete with coruscating live footage, but this time told from the band's point of view. Many critics, however, were unforgiving, and this interesting and original director has yet to find the recognition he deserves.
Flynn, Bob, 'Who Does Julien Temple Think He Is?', Guardian G2, 4 June 1999, pp. 8-9
Vermorel, Fred and Judy, Sex Pistols (London: W.H. Allen, 1981).
Julian Petley, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors