MGM // 1986 // 113 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // January 25th, 2012
"Never trust a junkie." -- Nancy
Sid & Nancy came out in 1986 and became a hip heroin version of Romeo & Juliet that all the cool kids embraced immediately. Sure it was very much a fictional account of two real people, but it captured an era effortlessly and bottled the energy of the punk movement. It was a valentine to any rebellious teen who played the Sex Pistols full blast to annoy their parents. Nevermind the bollocks or protests from the surviving band members, this felt like the real deal writ large and epic on the silver screen. It was the gritty rock and roll take on a classic love story, and it put the drugs into the "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" equation.
This two-year account tells the infamous tale of British punk rocker Sid Vicious and his American girlfriend Nancy Spungen. They are played to the hilt by Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight) and Chloe Webb (Twins) who are barely recognizable under the grunge veneer of the pair they are taking on. The film watches these two spiral down a rabbit hole of drugs and more drugs until there is no way out but death. Sid rises to fame with the Sex Pistols, but they break up. Sid tries to forge a solo career, but just can't. All the while there is Nancy feeding his ego and more importantly turning him into a junkie. We get to watch Sid get addicted to heroin and Nancy simultaneously, and they both destroy him.
Alex Cox had produced an indie cult hit with Repo Man, and so major studios were chomping at the bit to get him to produce something just as hip for them. The result was this MGM release which channeled the director's punk sensibilities all too well. Cox played it up bringing in some of his favorites along for the ride. It was a hip cast full of scenesters and rock royalty. In a strangely prescient move, Cox almost cast Courtney Love as Nancy Spungen, but the studio wanted a more experienced actress in the lead role. Love still appears in the final movie, though, as one of Nancy's friends named Gretchen who is featured in the opening sequence and throughout the New York City portions of the story. Sharp-eyed viewers can also catch Iggy Pop and Slash in the film doing cameos.
Central to the film was a long standing debate on whether or not Sid Vicious actually killed Nancy Spungen. Evidence was blurry either way, and yet this vision seems to draw its own conclusion all too readily. The movie was called out for other historical inaccuracies from every angle. Most damning was Sex Pistol lead singer Johnny Rotten's take, as he labeled it pure fantasy and dismissed Cox's vision as the "Peter Pan" version of what really happened. Many big name actors such as Tim Roth refused to be in the cast because they felt it was all too recent a history to portray. It was tough for Cox to take on the subject with the wounds still so fresh in most people's minds. Yet to him it seemed the logical move in his career.
Sid & Nancy is a tough watch because it doesn't shy away from showing everything. There are plenty of cringe-inducing scenes of the pair shooting up, beating each other mercilessly, and acting like snotty kids who need to be spanked. Webb's portrayal of Nancy is grating and just downright annoying to an infinite degree. She is all whine and tantrum the whole time. Oldman is an unpredictable mess who may erupt any minute. The only time these two are tolerable are when they are in small moments together. That's the brilliance of the film, that somewhere under two tough junked up exteriors are actual sweet caring souls that love each other. It's the quiet moments that make you believe, and the big rant scenes that make you horrified.
The 1.85:1/1080p high definition widescreen transfer for Sid and Nancy is tough to judge, because it's a film that is purposefully hazy and soft. Colors and details are just fine, but the overall look of the picture is gauzy. That's purposeful, and so the artistic vision of the cinematographer hinders the quality of the Blu-ray technically. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is punchy with concert sequences crashing in at vitriolic levels, and then dialogue scenes played low and soft. There is not much in the way of directional effects, since we either have people talking front and center or a concert hall that engages all the speakers.
Where fans may be disappointed is in the extras department. The best release of Sid & Nancy for supplements has been the Criterion version from 1998. That one included a very nice documentary and excellent archival footage of the real Sid Vicious and Nancy. It has been out of print since 1998, but it remains the holy grail for fans of the film. This new Blu-ray won't change that. There are a couple of featurettes here on the film, but nothing that is going to come close to what Criterion offered back in the day. We get MTV rock journalists and also columnists from Entertainment Weekly doing a a panel discussion about the film and contrasting it with the real Sid and Nancy. They do a fine job, and it is a nice thirty minutes. I am not sure why it is divided into two separate parts, but both include the same panel and subjects. All of it was recorded in 2007 when the film was celebrating its 20th anniversary. The bad news is none of the actual cast or crew are featured in the documentary. So we never get to hear from Alex Cox, Oldman, or Webb.
Sid & Nancy holds up as a drugged-out fairy tale about two star-crossed lovers who can't seem to pierce their heroin haze. Director Alex Cox knows how to handle the production, and it is a surprisingly rough journey that occasionally shows a tender side. It's alarming and chic, perfectly capturing the energy of the punk scene of the late '70s and dawning '80s. The Blu-ray gives us a nicely mastered transfer, but only offers marginal extras to go with it. The Criterion DVD remains the champ in that department, even though this is the best the film will look on your high definition television.
Guilty of being oh so pretty vacant.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Rated R