Alex Cox's second feature film, made after the success of 1984's Repo Man, was 1986's Sid And Nancy in which Gary Oldman played Sid Vicious, second (and final) bass player for The Sex Pistols. The film details his induction into the band and some of the turmoil that ensued but focuses more on his self-destructive relationship with his insane girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, played with incredibly annoying authenticity by Chloe Webb. As the two meet and fall in love, Nancy's drug addiction starts to quickly rub off on Sid, himself a naïve and rather dimwitted fellow. This inevitably leads to a lackluster solo career when the Pistols split and then, shortly after, Sid's arrest for Nancy's murder at the Hotel Chelsea in lower Manhattan.
Cox directs the film with a good sense of humor as evidenced in scenes like the one where a more mainstream musician tries to sell Johnny Rotton (Andrew Schofield) on a ‘punk song' he's just written about wanting a job. For the most part though, he plays things pretty straight in terms of its depiction of substance abuse and destructive relationships. At the same time, it also makes it very clear that Sid and Nancy did love one another very much, even if at times it can be difficult for us to see that through all the intravenous drug use and alcohol abuse.
Set to a great soundtrack of mid-eighties bands like Pray For Rain, The Pogues, Joe Strummer, the Circle Jerks and plenty of others, the film does a decent job of recreating iconic moments from The Sex Pistols' history. A good example of this is their Coronation Day Festival boat performance and their appearance on the Bill Grundy show. That said, it can be tough for those with an affinity for the band to accept Schofield as Rotten (a role Cox originally wanted Tim Roth for). Aside from that, the film is well cast. Webb brings Spungen's clingy, whiney and obnoxious persona to life. Ironically (considering what she'd become in the nineties), Courtney Love originally auditioned for the part but didn't get it. She can be spotted in a brief supporting role as one of Nancy's friends.
Oldman, the real star of the show, is almost perfect as Sid. He nails not only the tone of his voice but especially his lanky, awkward body language. Oldman is the film's true saving grace, his performance here taking home the Evening Standard British Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer. Oldman, who has gone on to become quite the chameleon in terms of his acting ability, had worked mostly in television before Cox cast him in the film. In order to ‘become Sid' he had to lose weight but went so far with it that he actually wound up in the hospital. Special mention also needs to be made of the mighty Edward Tudorpole, the mad genius behind Tenpole Tudor and the man who was at one time thought to be Rotten's replacement as singer in The Sex Pistols. He has an all too brief cameo as a hotel clerk in the film.
Maybe not so surprisingly, John Lydon, shedding his Rotton persona, would trash the film when it debuted noting that it was a fairy tale version of the real events. While it's hard to say how accurate that is not having been there, you can see why he'd make that comparison given just how much Cox plays up the romantic angel, particularly in the film's finale. But it works. There are moments where you have to accept that Cox isn't so much striving for realism and accuracy as he is for tone. When approached with that in mind, Sid And Nancy holds up very well, an interesting snapshot of an important part of musical history presented with a keen eye for visuals and played out by a generally solid cast.The Blu-ray:
Sid And Nancy was released on Blu-ray by MGM back in 2011 but this new release from The Criterion Collection is a big improvement. That older transfer was fine and it offered a nice upgrade over the older DVD editions of the picture, but the ‘new 4k digital restoration' used for this transfer leaves it in the dust. Framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and presented on a 50GB Blu-ray disc in AVC encoded 1080p, the biggest difference you'll notice is in the colors which look much more natural and impressive than on the older disc. Detail is also improved and there's strong depth and texture to the image. Criterion offers up the movie at a nice strong bit rate ensuring that there are no noticeable issues with any compression artifacts while the cleaned up picture is free of any obvious print damage, dirt or debris. At the same time, this still looks like film, so there are no issues with noise reduction, edge enhancement or black crush. Really, the picture quality here is very strong and leaves very little room for complaint.Sound:
English audio options are offered up in LPCM 2.0 Stereo and DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio with optional subtitles available in English only. Both tracks sounds quite good here, with the 2.0 mix obviously the ‘truer' of the two choices. The 5.1 track does do a nice job spreading around the effects and some of the music as well, while keeping most of the dialogue upfront. Regardless of which track you choose, you'll find that the dialogue is clear, that there are no issues with any hiss or distortion and that balance is spot on throughout playback.Extras:
Criterion carries over two audio commentary tracks, the first recorded in 1994 with co-writer Abbe Wool, cast members Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb, cultural historian Greil Marcus, filmmakers Julien Temple and Lech Kowalski and musician Eliot Kidd. This is more or less a historical track that covers not so much the making of the movie but the scene that it's based on. As such, we get a lot of insight into the early days of the British punk movement and the place that characters like Sid and Nancy held in that scene. Lots of talk here about the rise and fall of The Sex Pistols, Sid and Nancy's time in Manhattan and of course, their inevitable fate. When the track does get film specific it concentrates a lot of the visuals, but also discusses some of the locations used in the picture as well as certain moments when the movie deviates from what is more or less the established truth behind the events the film portrays. The second track, recorded in 2001 features Cox and actor Andrew Schofield. This track is more film specific as Cox walks us through the making of what is surely his best known film even at this point in his career. It's a fairly scene specific track with Schofield talking about what it was like trying to get into character, his interactions with the other cast members and plenty more. Both of these tracks are interesting and worthwhile, albeit for fairly different reasons.
From there we move on to a series of featurettes, starting with a half hour documentary from 1987 entitled England's Glory that serves as a vintage making of piece. This is actually a pretty interesting segment as it not only includes the typical talking head style interviews you'd expect but also uses some footage that was shot on set during the production. Up next is a three minute clip from the 1976 Bill Grundy interview with The Sex Pistols that aired on British television and is recreated in the film. From there, we get a ‘rare telephone interview' from 1978 with Sid Vicious that runs thirteen minutes and which was conducted by photographer Roberta Bayley only five days after The Sex Pistols called it quits. This was also recorded a few days after Vicious had overdosed. Here he talks pretty candidly about various subjects including the end of the band. The audio quality is a little rough in spots but this provides a fairly intimate look into his psyche at the time it was recorded. Continuing with the archival material, Criterion also provided ten minutes of interviews with Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen taken from the 1980 documentary D.O.A.: A Right Of Passage directed by Lech Kowalski. Those who haven't already seen the documentary in full (which is a seriously interesting piece with some amazing footage in it) should check this out as it is quite telling in a lot of ways.
New to this release is a 2016 Interview with Alex Cox that runs twenty-four minutes. This covers some of the same ground that is gone over in the commentary, with Cox discussing shooting the film basically in two parts, the first in London and the second in New York City, and the challenges that this entailed. He also talks about reception to the film and shares some interesting stories from the shoot. We also get a fourteen minute long clip from a November, 1976 episode of The London Weekend Show that features The Sex Pistols and a few random punk rans as host Janet Street-Porter explores the then very new punk phenomenon. Also on hand are fourteen minutes of excerpts from the 2016 documentary Sad Vacation directed by Danny Garcia. Here we get comments on the real life Sid and Nancy from Victor Colicchio, Howie Pyro, Bob Gruen, Ned Van Zandt, Brett Dunford, Kenny Gordon, Roberta Blayley and a few more.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are the film's original theatrical trailer, animated menus and chapter selection.
Included inside the keepcase alongside the Blu-ray disc is an insert booklet that contains an essay by author Jon Savage as well as a piece compiled by Alex Cox in 1986 piece compiled in which he presents various quotes from those who knew the real life Sid and Nancy. There's also cast and crew info in here as well as some technical information about the presentation.Final Thoughts:
Sid And Nancy is not a perfect film but it holds up well as a rather ridiculous romance of sorts set against the seedy backdrop of the early punk scene. Cox gets more right than wrong, but it's Oldman's performance here that really makes the movie work and which earns the film a recommendation. The Blu-ray reissue from The Criterion Collection is excellent across the board, presenting the film in fantastic shape and with a nice array of extra features old and new. Highly recommended based on the qualities of the film and the strength of the presentation.