Penelope Spheeris

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Penelope Spheeris
Penelope Spheeris, 1984
Penelope Spheeris after an interview with The Diamondback student newspaper.
Born (1945-12-02) December 2, 1945 (age 69)
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Occupation Film director, film producer, screenwriter
Years active 1968–present

Penelope Spheeris (born December 2, 1945) is an American film director, producer and screenwriter. She is best known as a documentary film director whose works include the trilogy titled The Decline of Western Civilization.[1] She has also directed feature films, including Wayne's World, her highest grossing film.[2]

Early life[edit]

Spheeris was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, to a Greek immigrant father who owned the Magic Empire Shows circus carnival and was a side-show strong man. Her mother was a ticket taker for a traveling circus side show.[3] Spheeris is a sister of singer Jimmie Spheeris[4] and a first cousin of musician Chris Spheeris,[4] and the Greek-French director Costa Gavras,[4] who she says makes her consider that there is something to the genetic aspects to the job description.[4] Spheeris spent her first seven years traveling around the American South and American Midwest with her father's carnival.[5] She majored in film and has a Master of Fine Arts degree in Theater Arts from UCLA in Los Angeles, California.[6]


Spheeris launched her career by producing short subjects for comedian Albert Brooks, many of them being highlights in the first season of the television series Saturday Night Live. Her first feature film was The Decline of Western Civilization (1981), a punk rock documentary that she produced as well as directed. She followed up with The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, this time about the Los Angeles heavy metal scene of 1988, with footage and interviews of legendary metal bands such as Kiss, Ozzy Osbourne, Aerosmith, Megadeth and Motörhead. She later returned to the streets of Los Angeles and the punk rock scene in 1998 for the documentary The Decline of Western Civilization Part III. She was offered the chance to direct This is Spinal Tap, but declined as she was unwilling to take part in making fun of music she genuinely enjoyed.[7]

In addition, she worked as a writer for the television series Roseanne (1988-1997). In the 1990s, Spheeris directed Wayne's World, a comedy based on Mike Myers's skits from Saturday Night Live. The movie grossed over $183 million and became a popular hit. She directed the Wayne's World music video work for Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", which earned a Grammy Award nomination.[6] She had difficulty working with Myers, while acknowledging him as "profoundly talented," and in an Entertainment Weekly article stated she believes Myers dissuaded Paramount Pictures from hiring her for the sequel.[8]

In 1996, she directed We Sold Our Soul for Rock 'n' Roll, a documentary about the Ozzfest, produced by Sharon Osbourne.[6] It explores life on the road.[6]

Other films Spheeris has directed include The Beverly Hillbillies; The Little Rascals (for which she co-wrote the screenplay); the Chris Farley comedy Black Sheep; the Marlon Wayans-David Spade team-up Senseless;[6] and The Kid & I starring Tom Arnold.[6] In 2006, she was set to direct the still-unfilmed Gospel According to Janis, about Janis Joplin.[6]

In 2010, she directed the comedy Balls to the Wall.

The Portland Oregon Women's Film Festival named Spheeris its guest of honor for 2013.[9]



External links[edit]