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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Sid and Nancy
Sid and Nancy
MGM // R // December 19, 2000
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Gil Jawetz | posted December 19, 2000 | E-mail the Author
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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 Tigger Movie.

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 the character.

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.

VIDEO:
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.

AUDIO:
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.

EXTRAS:
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 does not.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
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, too.

Related review:
The Filth and the Fury

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