The Decline of Western Civilization III

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The Decline of Western Civilization Part III
The theatrical poster
Directed by Penelope Spheeris
Produced by Ross Albert
Guy J. Louthan
Scott Wilder
CinematographyJamie Thompson
Edited by Ross Albert
Ann Trulove
Distributed bySpheeris Films
Release date
  • January 1998 (January 1998)(U.S.)
Running time
86 min.
CountryUnited States

The Decline of Western Civilization III is a 1998 documentary film, directed by Penelope Spheeris, that chronicles the gutter punk lifestyle of homeless teenagers. It is the third film of a trilogy by Spheeris depicting life in Los Angeles at various points in time. The first film, The Decline of Western Civilization (1981), dealt with the punk rock scene during 1980–1981. The second film, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988), covers the Los Angeles heavy metal movement of 1986–1988.


Spheeris later credited the 1998 film with having a profound effect on her. She began a relationship with a man she met while filming the movie, signed up to be a foster parent, and eventually fostered five children. [1] [2]


The film involves gutter punks who take the anti-establishment message with extreme seriousness and tune out society completely. Spheeris talks to homeless teenagers living on the street or squatting in abandoned buildings in Los Angeles, an unstable mother, Los Angeles Police Department officer Gary Fredo, and a paralyzed youth living on disability benefits.

Musicians interviewed include Keith Morris (Black Flag, Circle Jerks) and Flea (Fear, Red Hot Chili Peppers).

Performances by four bands were filmed: Final Conflict, Litmus Green, Naked Aggression, and The Resistance.

Reception and distribution

The film premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Freedom of Expression Award. It was screened at the Cannes Film Festival and the Chicago Underground Film Festival, where it received a jury award. However, it never went into general release and was not available on VHS or DVD until the release in 2015 of a box set containing all three films on DVD and blu-ray. This was partly due to Spheeris refusing to relinquish the rights to the first two parts of the trilogy in order to enable the third to be released. According to an article by Laura Snapes, "there was little demand to see such a depressing movie, and the few distribution offers that Spheeris got required her to hand over the rights to the first two movies, which she refused to do" [3] Decline III was also released separately via streaming video.

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  1. Friedman, Ann. "Penelope Spheeris: 'I sold out and took the money'". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  2. Eric, Ducker. "Talking to Penelope Spheeris about time, rock 'n' roll, and The Decline of Western Civilization". The Rage. Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  3. Snapes, Laura. "The Punk Director: Penelope Spheeris Revisits Her Decline of Western Civilization Trilogy". Pitchfork. Retrieved 2 September 2016.