If you haven’t seen the seminal classic film Sid and Nancy written (in part) and Directed by Alex Cox do yourself a favor and go ahead and make it happen. This film is important and triumphant. Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb capture something that shouldn’t be as easy as they make it look. Oldman captures the raw emotional struggle that Vicious displayed while at the same time managing to appear to be the epitome of the punk movement. Webb does the opposite, she brings to life possibly one of the most annoying characters I have witnessed while at the same time displaying an eagerness to be the mother to the child that is Sid Vicious.
I was looking back at some of the reviews that came with the initial release of the film as to gauge the first response to the film and overall snap judgment. Something I try not to do for the most part, however, felt compelled to know what did people think who had witnessed some of this behavior. The response seemed positive and gave me the sense that people genuinely found some appeal in the film. Something that stood out to me was the consistent commentary on the dichotomy of the film and its choices to display a film not consistent with the thematics of punk i.e. extreme violence, constant drug use, and overall anti-establishment behavior. Instead, the film tends to focus on what could be anyone’s relationship with its extreme highs and uniquely low, lows.
Our story opens at a crime scene. We have a shocked Sid Vicious smoking a cigarette covered in blood. He is taken into custody and asked to explain how he meets Nancy Spungen. The rest of the film follows the story of the two meeting and the events that surrounded their poisonous relationship. As Sid rises to notoriety and the two of them unsurprisingly find themselves hooked on heroin, we follow as they try and survive using what little talents they have between them and banking on the image that Sid has accomplished through his recklessness. The question soon becomes not if but when will they succumb to the lifestyle that they have given everything away for.
It was more than surprising to sit down and watch this film and discover that the film centers around the relationship of the Sid and Nancy, instead of having the Sex Pistols in the forefront of the film the band functions as a small plot device that pushes the story forward instead. I know I shouldn’t be surprised after all the film isn’t called The Sex Pistols: the Sid and Nancy Story. There is a reason for that, and it can be expressed in one line from the film, “But Sidney’s more than a mere bass player. He’s a fabulous disaster. He’s a symbol, a metaphor, he embodies the dementia of a nihilistic generation. He’s a fuckin’ star.” However ironic and iconic Sid vicious was, his life and his relationship was undoubtedly more interesting than The Sex Pistols. The film does all of this very well, it highlights the struggle Sid had as a musician his consistently bad choices, and yes the ups and downs of a toxic relationship.
The Film 5/5
Roger Deakins, possibly the most accomplished Cinematographer I’ve had the chance to write about to date, is responsible for this overlooked masterpiece. Deakins has been a staple of the industry for over forty years and it shows with some of the great films he has managed to work on e.g., 1984, Sid and Nancy, Barton Fink, Fargo, Skyfall, and Blade Runner 2049. Paired with Alex Cox (Repo Man), whose list of accomplishments, well, aren’t as long as Deakins, they manage to create a film that transcends a simple biopic, genre analysis, or even period piece and instead they give us the most toxic love story I have ever seen, (cue tacky joke about marriage). The film has its fair share of extreme opposites. Moments filmed like a crime drama, moments that seem like one long bad trip, and finally, one amazingly accurate filmed musical ballad which would seem to be sung by Gary Oldman himself. This is a Criterion release and my standards are extremely high because of this, and I can confidently say the upgrade was treated carefully, meticulously and lovingly. The quality seems like that great combination of grainy and detailed. Originally filmed on 35mm, this film has spent its fair share of being passed around from one home media option to another like a bowl or bar-room peanuts, my concern is that one too many hands in the bowl could have tainted the overall appeal. However I am glad to report this seems fresh, untouched and suffered rather little.
Picture Quality 5/5
I know at least one person in this world that would give me a swift punch in the arm for the following transgression. The transgression being before sitting down to watch this I hadn’t really listened to The Sex Pistols. This being the same person that once teased me for saying I was into Punk Rock when I meant I like Blink-182. So, if nothing else, I was completely impartial when judging the film? That’s my justification. Back to the film at hand, Dan Wool, credited as Pray for Rain, composed Sid & Nancy along with six other Alex Cox films. It is rather easy to say the score got overshadowed by the music in the film because it did. In fact, days later I could hardly name more than three moments that benefited from the score rather than silence or music by The Sex Pistols. The other factor here, to consider is, was Dan hired on his merits or simply because he is the brother to the co-writer of the film Abbe Wool. The film tended to be hard to understand, partially due to the thick cockney-like accents of some of the actors and partially due to the editing. The whole film feels cheap in a lot of ways which, to its credit, fits the story really well but can make home viewing painful at times.
Audio Quality 3/5
One of the main reasons I was so jazzed to pick this title up was the cover. There it was peeking from the shelf wedged between Short Cuts, and The Silence of the Lambs all I saw was the rather iconic lock-necklace with “Love Kills” engraved onto it. I knew I was getting it, I had never seen it on the shelves before and am a sucker for Gary Oldman so it was a no-brainer. The artwork for Criterion is always on point, simply stated without being overbearing it’s exactly what I wanted from the cover. For number 20 on the Criterion list we get the standard Scanavo clear case, with additional artwork on the inside, and a booklet featuring the essay The Horrible Purity of Immortality by Jon Savage detailing his thoughts of the biopic and how Sid & Nancy both benefits and deviates from this genre. Lastly one of my favorite things about the packaging is the color choices, I’m not sure what it is, surely something calculated, but the color palette simply catches and keeps your eye.
The Packaging 5/5
I’m sure it comes as no surprise to hear that Criterion managed to include tons of extras. Something they are known for is doing just that finding everything they can to supplement the film. Sid & Nancy is no different and we find a ton of featured shorts, interviews, even a phone interview included on this outstanding release. The special features included are as follows:
- 1994-Commentary featuring Abbe Wool, Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb, Critic Greil Marcus, Julien Temple and Lech Kowalski, and musician Eliot Kidd
- 2001-Commentary featuring Alex Cox, Andrew Schofield
- England’s Glory
- 30-min documentary on the making of Sid & Nancy
- Alex Cox
- Interview with Writer/Director in 2016
- Sad Vacation
- Excerpts from the documentary by Danny Garcia
- D.O.A.: A Right of Passage
- Scenes from 1980 documentary by Lech Kowalski
- Sid Vicious, 1978
- Phone Interview with Sid and Roberta Bayley
- The Filth and The Fury!
- The performance that launched The Sex Pistols into notoriety on the British show Today!
- The London Weekend Show
- excerpts from British Television journalist Janet Street-Porter
Special Features 5/5
The film is both Alex Cox and Sid Vicious incarnate. Cox has a unique explosive, and unrelenting style about him and is there really anything more perfect than that for Sid Vicious? Cox may not have gone on to make dozens of films, and much like Sid Vicious, it would seem his talents were not as appreciated as they should have been. What I have learned from the film, is that Sid and Nancy were children. Thrown aside, mostly by their own doing, children whose only direction in life seemed to be head toward one another until they eventually crash and burn. Luckily unlike the two notorious lovers, the film seems to have aged gracefully and can now be considered a staple in any growing collection of important films. You can purchase this film HERE.
Overall 5/5 -Highly Recommended