SID AND NANCY
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb, Andrew Schofield, David Hayman
Director: Alex Cox
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: August 22, 2017
“If I asked you to kill me, would you?”
“I don’t know. How would I do it? I couldn’t live without you.”
Sid and Nancy is one of those cult classic films that remained unseen by me for 30 years, but now certainly seemed like the right time for it. For starters, I’ve recently only begun to discover the Sex Pistols and the whole Manchester punk and post-punk movement spawned by the group. And secondarily, it was coming to Blu-ray from Criterion. A perfect one-two punch.
Now that I’ve seen it, I find myself unsure what to say about it. The acting from the titular leads is absolutely incredible, and for those who think “Commissioner Gordon” when you think of Gary Oldman, you really need to see this to remember what an amazing and complete actor the man is. The direction from Alex Cox is gritty, uncompromising and unapologetic; as in-your-face as the Pistols were themselves. Yet the overall experience was so appalling, so horrific, that it ripped at my emotions to the point where it’s hard to simply discuss the movie from a typical critical point of view. The only other experience I could liken it to was the movie Kids. I thought that movie was brilliant. I also knew immediately that I would never watch it again.
I learned through music collecting that Sid Vicious (Oldman) was not in fact an original member of the band. They fired their original bass player and brought in Vicious, because he was actually more extreme than the other members. He fully embodied the punk lifestyle with its excesses and alienation and attitude.
He also couldn’t play. There’s a common dismissal of punk bands that none of them could really play, but the truth is, they could, but Sid was the exception. He only appears on one track on the Pistols’ sole LP, and was so musically untalented that the film argues it brought about the premature end of the band.
Nancy Spungen (Webb) was an American groupie who took to the Pistols and especially to Sid, and their tumultuous relationship would continue until her death by stabbing (Sid would soon join her after an overdose). The film treats them almost as a modern Romeo and Juliet, but if theirs was a tale of woe, Sid and Nancy was a tale of self-destruction.
As mentioned, the performances are amazing and unforgettable, but they’re coupled with the fact I spent most of the movie dying to get out of the same room as them. If the movie explored what made the couple tick and why they seemed so bent on self-annihilation, I missed it, being too focused on the feeling I was trapped in an ugly, violent drug frenzy of a party with no out door.
On the one hand, I can appreciate the marvelous, explosive work this film is, and what it took to make it seem, feel and smell real from the opening frames. On the other hand, it’s not a world I ever want to visit again. It’s wise not to pretend to have the answers, because the answers wouldn’t have made the experience any more palatable.
Sid Vicious will always be known as a member of the Sex Pistols, but truthfully, he’ll always be remembered more for his all-too-brief lifestyle as commemorated here. Blessing or curse, that memory will likely live forever.
As mentioned, this is a gritty, realistic looking film that doesn’t go for sensuality in the visuals, but Alex Cox’s vision comes through as it should with this Criterion Blu-ray. It’s a world of dirt and grime and stink, and every frame of this high definition transfer brings the experience right to your living room, with natural colors and good detail.
Criterion delivers a 5.1 track for this movie, but it’s not really needed…despite the loudness of the Pistols’ music, some of the dialogue is actually where the dynamic range comes from. Everything is clean and well-balanced throughout.
Definitely one of the more complete, entertaining and informative extras packages of the year. There are two good commentary tracks; one from 1994 with Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb and others, and one from 2001 featuring Cox and Andrew Schofield.
There is also a 1987 documentary on making the film (something Cox financed himself), the infamous Bill Grundy interview (referenced in the movie), a 1978 phone interview with Sid as he was in the hospital recovering from an overdose, a segment from DOA: A Right of Passage featuring the real Sid and Nancy, plus a terrific accompanying booklet.
For some icons who died young, it’s easy to muse about what their lives would have been like had they lived. I think for Sid Vicious, there is no such fantasy…he simply wasn’t meant to live beyond his youth. Sid and Nancy is neither tribute nor cautionary tale; it’s simply an unrepentive look at the couple with as much truth as could be mustered. It’s not a pleasant experience, but it’s the only one I think Sid would have wanted.