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The Void 3:33 Ep #3: Director Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World, iconic Decline of Western Civilization punk/metal doco series

Iconic director Penelope Spheeris talks to Christina and Josh about secret stories from her historic Decline of Western Civilization punk/heavy metal doco series, creating the first music videos with Parliament Funkadelic and Fleetwood Mac in the early Seventies, the movie with legendary comic Richard Pryor she made that Cosby allegedly won’t let you see, why she got fired off the Wayne’s World sequel, the origin story of the Wayne’s World Bohemian Rhapsody scene and lots more. We also explore Void co-host Josh Watkins’ career as a feature film Assistant Director, plus our favourite music documentaries. Several highlights from our conversation with Penelope below.

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Penelope Spheeris on her current projects:

“My daughter Anna and I have started shooting some material for a Decline [of Western Civilization, Volume] Four and we will finish it at some point in our careers. I’m working on a [documentary] movie about my mum who ran away with the carnival when she was 19. I’m also working on on very, very special project that is not a movie, but I’m putting most of my time into and I can’t tell you what it is right now. But please trust me, it’s going to be a good one … a kind of a Hollywood expose.”

Penelope Spheeris on what stays with her about the Decline punk/metal documentary series:

“I think what sticks out in my mind about doing the Decline movies is that I was actually trying to understand myself. [I] came from a pretty rough upbringing. And a lot of those kids in the punk scene did as well. I was older than most of them … but I [was] still trying to understand who the f**k I am, you know what I mean? How did I get on this Earth? Why do people behave the way they do? It really was more of a sort of anthropological study and human behaviour with the music as a backdrop.”

Penelope Spheeris on the unreleased Richard Pryor movie that Cosby is allegedly hiding from the world:

“I spent almost two years with Richard Pryor. [I’ll] give you a description of one day in the editing room. We’re at his house down in Hancock Park, here in LA. Richard would walk around in the morning with a Japanese kimono robe on. And he had Japanese swords up on the wall, and he would have a plate of cocaine, and a bottle of Courvoisier at 10 in the morning. Not always a great combination, with the sword going like this right behind where I’m editing.

Richard at one point decided that he wasn’t going to work on the movie anymore. And he wanted me to show it to Bill Cosby … I showed the film to Bill Cosby. And I never saw the film after that … I think he sold it to Cosby. Because you know, Cosby, at that time was king shit, and [Cosby] didn’t like  Richard Pryor coming up because he was funnier than him and he was getting all the you know, attention. Yeah, anyway, so I think Richard sold the film to Cosby, and it’s sitting in Cosby’s vault or his under his bed or somewhere. I don’t think he brought it to jail.”

Penelope Spheeris on the timely nature of Decline Part Two:

“I think it was just that moment in time. If I would have made that movie a year earlier. Or a year later, it would have been a totally different movie, that whole hair metal scene. It was really huge here, and it lasted a split second. Okay. And that’s when I made the movie. Yeah. And, you know, somebody said, Oh, Penelope’s movie, Decline Part II killed hair metal. And I’m like, is that a compliment or an insult?”

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