Danny Boyle had an immediate reaction when approached with the idea of making a film about the Sex Pistols. “I thought, Well, that won’t work! he says. “The Sex Pistols are an edifice that you can’t really approach because there’s such an electric fence of hostility around them, which they’ve created.”
But ultimately, the Oscar-winning actor, who directed Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire, cracked the case, basing his treatment on the guitarist Steve Joneshis memoirs, Lonely Boy: Tales of a Sex Pistol. “It’s the most obvious thing,” Boyle said. “You enter through a side door…almost like a Trojan horse, and then you’re inside…. You can see the way the band was built, its architecture and it allowed for a sense of chaos.
The result is Gun, a six-part drama series premiering on FX on May 31 (with a concurrent full-season drop on Hulu). Unsurprisingly, the punk pioneers’ brief and tumultuous career chronicle – they lasted long enough to make an album, Never mind the bullshit, here come the Sex Pistols– was plagued by his own troubles; John Lydon, who was known as Johnny Rotten during his tenure as leader of the Pistols, was for follow-up by two former bandmates after refusing to allow the band’s music for production. (Lydon finally lost the suit.)
Boyle emphasizes that his goal was never to tell a definitive story. “It’s not a documentary because…there’s not one version of the truth here,” he says. “You just have to hope that the essence you get is faithful enough to warrant being taken seriously.”
Once he agreed on a strategy, Boyle approached Gun as a mission – and, as he explains below, a chance to re-examine certain elements and myths from a contemporary perspective. “It sounds a bit pretentious, obviously, but I was kind of destined to do that,” he says. “I knew I had to [make a punk film] at one point. It was my personal debt to them and what they did to me in my life. It made me feel like, holy shit, we’re really gonna do this. And we’re not going to apologize. It’s going to be full blast, full volume, end to end, and it’s going to be full of music. We’re not going to screw up the music in the middle of a song. And if that cuts the audience in half, then so be it, because the Pistols haven’t apologized for anything.
NO WOMAN, NO PUNK
Gun actively centers the women who were essential to the development of early punk, including the designer Vivienne Westwood, the icon of the Jordan scene, and above all Chrissie Hyde, whose (slightly exaggerated) relationship with Steve Jones makes him almost a Greek chorus and the show’s musical conscience. “At one point we had subtitles at the end that said, ‘This is what happened to Paul Cook,‘ and ‘This is what happened to Glen Matlock,‘ and everyone,” Boyle says. “And Chrissie Hynde was that she went on to sell more records than all the other people on that program together.”
“There was a very silent, inexorably timed bomb that it would come and eclipse them all. one of the responsibilities of the program, because it’s done now…to have a consciousness that is clearly aware that this is something that is going on that hasn’t been appreciated enough. Who knows how many others girls were frustrated at being overlooked, even though punk was good enough to allow women in, compared to many other rock and roll bands.