INTERVIEW: Director Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World)

Published in The Music (WA, VIC, QLD & NSW) and on, July 2015



Writer/director Penelope Spheeris still possesses the same passion and angst she had when she released her seminal documentaries in the ‘80s, but Daniel Cribb discovers changing laws have stunted her creativity.

enelope Spheeris not only changed filmmaking with her iconic The Decline Of Western Civilization punk and metal documentaries in the ‘80s, but also left a permanent mark on the scene, so it’s not surprising she’d rather be known for them than her efforts on Wayne’s World. “I think the first one definitely affected the development of MTV,” Spheeris begins from her Laurel Canyon residence. “I did that first one before MTV happened and I always hear, ‘How come you copied the shooting and editing feel of the MTV videos?’ And I’m like, ‘Wait a minute… it’s the other way around.’”

Though it’s been 34 years since the first Decline film dropped, it’s still an important piece of film history and social commentary, which is why a box-set release of all three is well overdue. “I guess they just struck a nerve, in the same way actually that Wayne’s World struck a nerve. I think they just captured a time where a lot of other filmmakers just weren’t making movies. I was fortunate that I was observant enough to make a movie about subjects that other people weren’t making movies about.”

It’s her passion that makes Spheeris’ work so engaging, but times have changed and even the Decline films would have been “watered down” had they been made today. “As a documentarian, my problem is the privacy laws right now,” she reveals. “I can’t make a documentary film. I would make a film about mental health in the United States right now, because it sucks. Right now, none of the government is supporting it, and people are locked away forever and it’s horrible… can I make a documentary on it? No, because of the privacy laws here. There’s no documentary I would make because I can’t do it.”

A large part of her pride in the Decline… films stems from how involved in them she was. Wayne’s World might have been more commercially successful, but that’s not something she’s as connected to. “When we did Wayne’s World, we had no idea that it was going to have the success that it did – none of us did. Mike [Myers] didn’t, Lorne Michaels [producer] didn’t, Paramount didn’t, and nobody knew. It was just kind of a fluke of nature and actually so were the Decline movies. I didn’t know that they would be significant 30 years later.

“I get scripts all the time from people, saying, ‘Here’s the new Wayne’s World,’ and I’m like, ‘Send them to Paramount care of Lorne Michaels – it ain’t me.’ If they did it right it would work; there are so many fans out there, but it’s so hard to do something like that right. They wouldn’t hire me, because they wouldn’t hire me for Wayne’s World 2, so screw them.”