Coming in from the side, the second writer to join the now-two-person strong staff of The Filmist – those of you at Match-Cut Forums, you know him! You love him! He’s that elusive enigma known only as – Grouchy! And, for his introductory piece, he’s written up a meaty segment on Alex Cox’s 1986 semi-autobiographical opus, Sid & Nancy – with more to come, but that goes without saying.
And, so it is that we turn –
This has to be one of the most consistently bleak movies I’ve ever seen, although at the same time it has the sense of delirious mayhem and fun chaos that is very distinctive of Cox’s work. From the first scene to the last, the script depicts Sid Vicious as a hopeless junkie with no work ethics, barely any redeeming qualities and zero future. The only thing that seems to keep him going is the obsessive, self-destructive relationship he has with Nancy Spungen, which starts in a very casual manner and soon becomes a shared junk addiction and the destruction of his musical career. I guess every band has its Yoko Ono. Cox’s view is that Vicious was a limited but promising musical talent and that Nancy got him into heroine. It also looks as if Sid takes the heroine (claiming he was already into it) simply because he feels he has to in order to live up to the punk rock image. The Sex Pistols manager is also pointed at as stimulating his addiction and extreme behavior for publicity purposes.
Is all this consistent with reality? I don’t know. After the movie was over I read Johnny Rotten’s very unfavorable comments – “Cox is lucky I didn’t shoot him” – and some of it feels very justified, like the assertion that the movie’s directed by an Oxford graduate who missed out on the punk era. Johnny is portrayed in the movie as something of a nulity as far as his friendship with Sid goes, a mindless troublemaker who does nothing to stop his mate’s downward spiral. He claims Cox did very limited research for the movie and never even bothered to speak with him or the other band members. He also claims he doesn’t drink champagne. My take on it? Sid O.D.ed in 1979, and this movie was filmed barely six years later. In fact, Tim Roth refused the Rotten role because he felt the material was way too recent. I think Cox perhaps didn’t want to be overwhelmed with information because he wasn’t doing a documentary but a film about the consequences of fame and drug addiction, which happened to focus on the Sex Pistols. Ultimately, his vision is valid and not wildly unrealistic. His version of Nancy’s suicide/murder/accident doesn’t even attempt a theory about what actually happened, unlike the lame fiction segments in Ferrara’s recent Chelsea Hotel documentary.
The film is filled with memorable images. As Sid sings his “My Way” cover he draws a huge silver gun and starts shooting down the audience, including Nancy herself. Then he kisses her reanimated copse. Another moment shows the lovers making out in an alley while huge garbage bags fall from the sky in slow-motion. By far the most depressing moments appear near the end, when Sid and Nancy are far too wasted and hooked on heroine to even speak coherently with each other or anybody. Cox uses every trick in the book to convey the punk lifestyle. I disagree that the movie glamourizes heroine, though. In fact, I think it does the opposite – it shows a glamorous lifestyle through the secret face of the glass, the one where Sid is a hero to the teens who go to his concerts but is in fact little more than a manipulated tool and, ultimately, an insecure little kid. The movie is fun, sure, but trashing vintage Rolls Royce cars is supposed to be fun. It was fun for the people involved and, in order to make an accurate movie, that fun should be communicated to us. It’s the same thing as Goodfellas making a point about the benefits of wealth and power – it shows the viewers why people are drawn to this lifestyle, but it pulls no punches as far as the consequences go.
Gary Oldman’s performance is bloody good acting, perhaps one of the man’s very best. A running joke throughout the movie is that he is never shown actually playing bass – he’s always way too wasted to bother with music. Little-known Chloe Webb also sinks teeth into the Nancy role. She’s always screaming and always extremely into depression or excitement. One particularly memorable moment has the couple eating with Nancy’s grandparents. The folks ask regular questions – whether they intend to marry, if they like the food, etc. – and they find this subhuman pair of slobbering monsters who rant on about nothing while getting drunk. In a manner reminiscent of Repo Man, Cox always drowns Sid and Nancy in mountains of trash food packaging, everything from KFC to Pizza Hut.
This is a great rock movie, and probably Cox’s best from what I’ve seen, although Walker also gives it a run for its money.