Sometimes a film can be completely rewarding in some
respects and totally wrong in others. Alex Cox's Sid and Nancy (1986, originally released on
DVD by Criterion, this review is of the new MGM release) is terrific as a bizarre love story between
the late Sex Pistols' bassist Sid Vicious and junkie/groupie Nancy Spungen. The two lovers connect
on a sadomasochistic level that is unusual and, in the film at least, leaves you with the feeling that they
could have been the only people on the planet, a perfect match that could only have destroyed itself.
As a look at the Sex Pistols and the times surrounding them, however, Sid and Nancy is
much more problematic. While its focus is not the band, the setting of London in the late Seventies
needs to be authentic in order for the film to work. Pistols leader Johnny Rotten comes off as a
buffoon (he has been quite vocal over the years in his disgust for the film) and the entire punk
movement looks silly. The reality of the Pistols was that they were an intelligent, angry rebuttal to the
state of social, economic, and political unrest in England at the time. They changed the world in a
way, and they definitely changed music, but you wouldn't know that from Sid and Nancy.
Andrew Schofield is terrible as Rotten, sneering stupidly and bouncing around like he's in The
Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb are better as the title characters. Webb
hasn't had much success since her feature debut in Sid and Nancy and it's possible that
Nancy's shrill behavior wasn't much of a stretch, but her Nancy is annoying and grating in a way that
only reinforces her hold over Sid. Oldman is absolutely astounding as Sid, a tragic, pathetic figure in
music history who has been turned into something of a martyr to punk by t-shirt and poster printers
since his early death. The reality of his involvement in the Pistols (as documented in Julien Temple's
outstanding documentary The Filth and the Fury) is much
more complex and sad. Oldman gets at this inner sadness without the benefit of Temple's film or two
decades of hindsight. His Sid is a creation of pure actor's instinct and he completely disappears into
Cox came straight from his Cali punk epic Repo Man and his laid back
West Coast style is not really appropriate for the much more political UK punk scene. His trivializing
the Pistols hurts the film. A film of greater depth would have placed Sid's downfall in a stronger
context, but instead Sid and Nancy settles as an unusual and effective romance.
MGM's current release of Sid and Nancy replaces the Criterion
version's non-anamorphic transfer. The new disc has a crisper picture, more vibrant colors, and, of
course, an anamorphic transfer. Really the improved picture is the only improvement over the
previous disc, which looks good for an earlier release.
The 2.0 audio
track may have a little more punch than Criterion's but it's tough to tell. This was a low-budget affair
and no one has gone at either release with the intention of reimagining the soundscape. The Pistols'
music still kicks major arse, although the versions here are not quite the classics. Joe Strummers'
score, however, ain't no classic. Maybe he's bitter that the Pistols occupy a higher rung on the ladder
of music history than his Clash. Whatever.
A trailer. That's it. Really
embarrassing considering the posh coverage Criterion offered. This is really a film that needs context.
Even the collaborators are aware of the considerable flaws and Criterion helped explain those. MGM
While not a perfect portrait of an
important time in music, Sid and Nancy has its merits, chief among them the lead actors. The
desperation in Oldman and Webb's performances is palpable and, if there is any doubt that Sid and
Nancy are great modern romantic figures just remember that Romeo and Juliet ended up dead,
The Filth and the Fury