As hard as filmmakers try to be balanced and even-handed in documentaries, their movies often wind up being told from one person's point of view.

And even though it purports to be a musical documentary tracing the rise and fall of England's infamous punk-rockers the Sex Pistols, "The Filth and the Fury" does indeed become a one-man show.

Fortunately for director Julien Temple — if not the audience — that one man is opinionated Sex Pistols frontman John "Johnny Rotten" Lydon, whose presence commands your attention. He's also what makes this erratic and surprisingly superficial film worthwhile.

In terms of concept and content, the film appears to be an "answer" of sorts to Temple's earlier Sex Pistols film, 1980's "The Great Rock and Roll Swindle," which told the tale from the standpoint of fast-talking, one-time Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.

In this one, the surviving band members (Lydon, guitarist Steve Jones, drummer Paul Cook and original bass guitarist Glen Matlock) attempt to explain what exactly spawned this unique musical phenomenon and what brought about its inevitable demise.

Of course, this story has been told before, and more than just a few times, so it's got to take chances just to stand out. And one of the film's saving graces — or it may be considered by some to be its biggest weakness — is Temple's music-video direction style.

For example, he's shot the modern-day interviews in silhouette, which makes his subjects appear as if they were people participating in a witness-relocation program. Such innovations, as well as Lydon's bristly presence, give the film an edge . . . though just barely.

The movie fails as a sociological document because it never explains the band's true significance. (To hear Lydon tell it, he invented anarchy and punk-rock, which is sheer folly, considering that American punks Iggy Pop and The Ramones presaged his band by several years.)

But again, it is refreshing to hear things from the band's viewpoint and not to have to suffer through McLaren's self-congratulation.

The film should be of interest to fans of the group and of punk-rock music because it contains vintage performances of such Pistols classics as "Anarchy in the UK"" and "God Save the Queen," as well as a cover of The Who's "Substitute."

"The Filth and the Fury" is rated R for rampant use of strong profanity and sexual slang terms, some vulgar humor, violence (slam-dancing and some rioting), male and female nudity, brief drug use (heroin) and a brief animated sex scene. Running time: 107 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com