Penelope Spheeris

Often referred to as a Rock ‘n Roll anthropologist, Spheeris currently lives in Los Angeles.

As a child Penelope Spheeris lived with her family in different trailer parks throughout southern California. She spent her teenage years in Orange County, graduating from Westminster High School with a daunting ‘most likely to succeed’ label. Working as a waitress at Denny’s and IHOP, she put herself through film school.

A holder of a UCLA Master of Fine Arts degree in Theater Arts, she worked as a film editor and a cinematographer before forming her own company in 1974. ROCK ‘N REEL was the first Los Angeles production company specializing in music videos. She produced, directed, and edited videos for major bands through the Seventies and Eighties, concluding her music video work with the Grammy nominated, Bohemian Rhapsody video for WAYNE’S WORLD.

Spheeris’ feature film debut was the 1979 documentary on the Los Angeles punk scene, THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION which received stunning and unanimous critical praise.

The LAPD shut down Hollywood Boulevard and Chief of Police, Daryl Gates wrote a letter demanding the film not be shown again in L.A. Still fascinated with the subject of punk rock, she wrote and directed SURBURBIA, her first narrative film in 1983. It is a disturbing and somewhat prophetic story of rebellious, homeless kids squatting in abandoned houses, trying to make new families, and protecting one another. SUBURBIA won first place at the Chicago Film Festival. Almost 25 years later her documentary, THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION, PART III would eerily mirror the events she scripted in SUBURBIA.

In 1984, THE BOYS NEXT DOOR starred Charlie Sheen and Maxwell Caulfield. It is an anti-violence film that showed how perfectly normal looking boys whose anger has long been repressed, can be walking time bombs.

In 1987 DUDES, starring Flea, Lee Ving, John Cryer and Daniel Roebuck, is about alienated punk kids who discover a sense of values while setting straight the death of a friend.

In all of these films Spheeris reveals the desolation of youth and the American dream gone bad. They depict stories of young people experiencing traumatic pain and alienation.

THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION, PART II: THE METAL YEARS was released in 1988, again to spectacular critical acclaim. It is a caustically hilarious look at the LA heavy metal scene. Commentaries from Ozzy Osbourne, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, Alice Cooper, Lemmy of Motorhead, Poison, etc. accentuate the mostly unknown metal bands who perform the music. It features a spectacular performance from Megadeth and the scene with W.A.S.P. rocker Chris Holmes and his mother will probably remain one of the most memorable pieces of rock film history.

In 1991, Spheeris directed her seventh feature and her first studio film, WAYNE’S WORLD at Paramount Pictures. Subsequently she directed and produced THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (Fox). She scripted and directed THE LITTLE RASCALS (Universal). BLACK SHEEP (Paramount), SENSELESS (Dimension). THE KID & I and BALLS TO THE WALL were to follow.


(Penelope Spheeris, 1984)

Produced by Roger Corman, Penelope Spheeris’ cult film features  non-professional performances by street kids and punk musicians (Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers among others). Mostly refugees from broken,...

The Decline of Western Civilization III

(Penelope Spheeris, 1997)

In the third entry in Spheeris’s vital trilogy, the very title of the series takes on a dark literalism: while the “decline” of the first film was largely a reclamation...

The Decline of Western Civilization

(Penelope Spheeris, 1981)

The Decline of Western Civilization is a ragingly vital work, a blistering, vividly insightful and energetic portrait of the Los Angeles punk scene (and, by extension, the city’s -- and...

No Use Walkin’ When You Can Stroll

(Penelope Spheeris, 1998)

One-time carny, bartender, and married ten times, Penelope Spheeris’s mother was an uncommon woman.  In this sweet, funny, and moving video portrait, Spheeris gives us a vivid glimpse into the...

Hats Off to Hollywood

(Penelope Spheeris, 1972)

Picking up the story first presented in I Don’t Know, Hats Off to Hollywood brazenly and brilliantly mixes documentary reality with fully staged recreations/reimaginings of episodes in the lives of...

I Don’t Know

(Penelope Spheeris, 1970)

A truly major work, I Don’t Know observes the relationship between a lesbian and a transgender man who prefers to identify somewhere in between male and female, in an expression...

The National Rehabilitation Center

(Penelope Spheeris, 1969)

Two years before Peter Watkins’ Punishment Park, Spheeris takes the McCarran Act to its inevitable next step and shows us - via an early use of mockumentary - what the...


(Penelope Spheeris, 1969)

Never completely finished during its original production, this snarky comic piece was rediscovered in Spheeris’s vaults in 2010 and preserved as-is.  The titular substance plays a key role in determining...


(Penelope Spheeris, 1969)

Made in an environment and at a time when frequent and gratuitous images of nude women permeated the work of her male counterparts, Spheeris produced this intimate and sensual observation...


(Penelope Spheeris, 1968)

Penelope Spheeris's first film, made in 8mm Kodachrome at UCLA. In a seemingly near-future control room devoid of people, various readouts and calculations suggest that humankind is not altogether compatible...