Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Sid & Nancy (1986)
Studio Line: MGM - Love kills.

Gary Oldman (Lost In Space) and Chloe Webb (The Newton Boys) execute performances that are "nothing short of phenomenal" (Los Angeles Times) as Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and his unforgettable junkie girlfriend -- two social misfits who literally love each other to death. In this "riveting biography of burnt-out icons" (The Washington Post), award-winning writer director Alex Cox (Repo Man) creates a "great film" ("Siskel & Ebert") about the destructive lives of two 1970's punk legends.

Their love affair is one of pure devotion. Sid falls hard for groupie Nancy Spungen, who seduces him with her affection -- and addiction to heroin. Their inseperable bond -- to each other and their drugs -- eventually corrodes the band, sending Sid and Nancy down a dark road of despair. Out of money, hope and options, the despondent two hit rock bottom while living in squalor as New York's infamous Chelsea Hotel. But their journey takes yet another tragic turn as they face their final curtain -- and attempt to fulfill their destiny of going out in a blaze of glory!

Director: Alex Cox
Cast: Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb, Drew Schofield, David Hayman, Debby Bishop, Tony London.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, standard 1.33:1; audio English Dolby Surround 2.0; subtitles French, Spanish; closed-captioned; double sided - single layered; 32 chapters; Rated R; 111 min.; $19.98; street date 12/19/00.
Supplements: Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD | 12 Days on the Road: The Sex Pistols and America - Noel E. Monk | CD soundtrack - Sex Pistols

Picture/Sound/Extras: A-/B/D-

When a film documents recent events, one problem stems from the familiarity of the viewers, especially when the depiction covers a famous topic. Many more people will grant you artistic license when you tell a story about Mozart than when you show the Beatles; too many of the viewers lived through the events and will have an innate sense of accuracy.

Sometimes the facts can be correct but the tone is wrong, and thatís kind of how I felt about 1986ís Sid & Nancy, a film that depicts the seedy love story between American waste-oid Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb) and talentless British rock star Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman).

Although he remains arguably the bandís most famous member, Vicious had almost nothing to do with the music of the Sex Pistols. His predecessor, bassist Glen Matlock, was really the main creative force in the group, and he was much of the reason for their success with tunes like ďAnarchy in the UKĒ and ďGod Save the QueenĒ.

Matlock got the boot apparently because of some bourgeois tendencies; singer Johnny Rotten indignantly spat that he wanted to turn the band into the Beatles. Vicious came on as Matlockís replacement although he didnít know how to play the bass.

Matlockís departure eventually would have killed the band since he was the creative force; granted, the group somehow produced what it arguably their best song - ďHolidays in the SunĒ - after he left, but it seems unlikely anything else of significance would have developed. In any case, this was a band with a shelf life, though not for the usual reasons. Generally itís teen-oriented groups like Backstreet Boys who feel the ticking of the clock; rock bands can go on for much longer. However, the Pistols embodied the crash and burn mentality of punk; they had to die for the movement to make any sense.

(This didnít stop them from regrouping for a brief and fairly unsuccessful reunion tour in 1996. At that times many other bands had reunited to cash in on nostalgia, so there was an appropriately cynical tone to the reformed Pistols. It should have been a disaster, because few bands belonged to their era more than the Pistols, but somehow they pulled it off; I saw one of the shows and thought it seemed nasty and nihilistic enough to live up to the bandís reputation.)

S&N tries to pun the groupís demise on Viciousí escalating drug habit, and that may well be related to the immediate cause. However, itís too neat a turn to be real, and the film ignores the general chaos that surrounded the group. The movie makes it appear as though the other members were organized and efficient but that damned loser Sid ruined all of their pop-chart plans! The story even makes Rotten look like an artsy perfectionist. Thatís not even remotely accurate, and this tone - however will it fits the movieís storyline - kept me from buying into the tale.

Actually, there was a lot about S&N that made it next to impossible for me to suspend disbelief. The reproductions of the Pistolsí songs didnít come terribly close to the originals. Worst of the bunch was Andrew Schofieldís attempts to emulate Rotten; he gets some of the technique correct but never reasonably replicates the original. The music comes closer but still left me feeling distant (even though Matlock performed on the filmís tunes).

The film alternates between telling us how untalented Vicious was (which is true) and also sending the message that he could have been a big rock star on his own (patently false). Vicious had a few moments of ironic glory as a solo artist due to his punk rendition of ďMy WayĒ but there was literally no chance whatsoever he could have done anything else in the business. The movie depicts Nancyís continued insistence that he has what it takes to be a star, and the story often seems to believe her; the tone appears to demonstrate that only some narrow-minded jerks kept him from reaching his potential.

Iíve looked over other reviews of S&N that complain about the movieís general tone of darkness and decay. However, I thought the events rarely seemed dismal and unsettling enough for me! Thereís a mood about the time that should have come through in the film but it never does, and thatís why the picture always felt like a cheap replication of the period. Director Alex Cox clearly has an affection for the time, but somehow he completely missed the boat in his depiction of the era. Itís hard for me to pinpoint the flaws, but I just thought that the movie felt wrong.

The same went for the much-lauded acting of leads Oldman and Webb. This was Garyís first notable role, and while he seems to inhabit Sid to a certain degree, I never really bought him in the part. Frankly, Oldmanís innate intelligence came through too much of the time. Sid was a moron - a total moron at that - and Oldman simply appears too bright, sensitive and insightful to play Vicious. Thereís simply too much going on in his head.

As for Webb, she offers a terribly grating and off-puttingly screechy performance as Nancy. I have more trouble judging the accuracy of her portrayal, but it felt too broad. Actually, it reminded me of Tracey Ullmanís annoying comic turn in Woody Allenís Small Time Crooks in that the actress adopts the most nasal and whiny of American accents. Is this really how Nancy sounded and acted? Perhaps, but it seemed forced nonetheless.

I guess that remains my biggest complaint about Sid & Nancy: it never feels real. The movie seems to want to get the era correct but it never is quite able to do so; a few moments come across as vivid and accurate, but too much of the picture is muddled and ineffective. S&N scores points for taking on a difficult and unpleasant subject and rendering it in a fairly graphic manner, but I ultimately thought the movie didnít live up to its potential.

The DVD:

Sid & Nancy appears in both its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen edition on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the letterboxed image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the widescreen side was rated for this review. Although not without a few concerns, I found the picture to appear startlingly fine; itís a much stronger image than I expected from this sort of low-budget semi-indie affair.

Sharpness seemed consistently terrific. One or two wide shots appeared very slightly soft and hazy, but these were rare exceptions. As a whole, the image was nicely crisp and well-defined throughout the film. Moirť effects and jagged edges presented no significant concerns, and I also saw few artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws appeared largely absent. I saw some light grain at times, and a few examples of speckles and grit appear, but otherwise the movie looked nicely clean and fresh.

Colors were also surprisingly marvelous. Despite the dank subject matter and generally decaying tone of punk, the film offered a lot of bright and vibrant hues. From dyed hair to lots of different outfits, the colors looked extremely clear and vivid throughout the movie. Black levels also seemed deep and rich, and shadow detail was clear and appropriately opaque. Sid and Nancy isnít a demonstration-level image, but it seemed much better than I expected.

Also surprisingly good is the filmís Dolby Surround soundtrack. The soundfield seemed essentially monaural during the early parts of the movie but it soon began to expand. Music spread nicely to the side speakers and also often blasted from the rears; during club scenes, the tunes surround you effectively and realistically. Other scenes conveyed appropriate and mildly engrossing ambiance, and audio panned between channels cleanly. Itís not a rock-Ďem, sock-Ďem affair that youíll use to impress friends, but I found the soundfield to be nicely engaging.

Audio quality seemed similarly solid. Much of the dialogue was difficult to understand, but that resulted from thick English accents and had nothing to do with the recording. Otherwise, speech seemed reasonably natural and warm and showed no signs of edginess. Effects appeared generally clear and accurate, and at times they boasted some nice depth, such as during a loud thunderstorm. Music seemed consistently crisp and deep, with solid dynamics and good accuracy. The bass wasnít as tight as Iíd like, but for a movie from 1986, the soundtrack seemed very positive.

Less exciting are the DVDís supplements. All we find here is a theatrical trailer. MGM used to produce some wonderful booklets for their DVDs, but these have become more and more rare; for S&N, all we get is a title card.

This is yet another MGM DVD that doesnít bother with English subtitles. Their omission is annoying in the best of circumstances but seems especially problematic for a film like S&N which contains some very heavy accents at times. Most other studios include English subtitles, so I donít understand why MGM (and Anchor Bay, and Artisan) refuse to do so on a consistent basis.

One other minor gripe about MGM as they relate to this DVD: at the start of the disc, we get a brief intro video with their logo. This has appeared on most of their releases; the logo zooms out and the lion roars. Loudly. The volume level remains too high, and this annoyance is compounded on S&N due to the fact the logo is now unskippable. Attempts to move past it were useless; I was stuck with the thing. Memo to studios: nothing on DVDs should ever be unskippable!

Sid and Nancy was a movie that I wanted to like but I found it to be strangely uncompelling. The acting appeared technically strong but felt oddly unconvincing; not once did I think I was watching anything even remotely true to life. The DVD offers very good picture and sound but contains virtually no extras. Even with that bare bones effort, fans of the film will be pleased to get this DVD due to the high quality of the movie itself. Others who havenít seen the picture may want to rent it first.

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