Tuesday, June 05, 2007

SID AND NANCY - A Tale of Two Patsies

Alex Cox made a movie about Sid Vicious and Nancy Spudgeon becuase he didn't want Hollywood to make its picture starring - of all people - Madonna and Rupert Everett. For that alone, he's to be thanked. On top of that, we get a low-budget factually based picture about abuse.

When we first meet Sid Vicious he's already the infamous bass player for the Sex Pistols. Malcolm Maclaren is balls-out honest about the fact that he's not in the band because he can play. Even by the gonzo standards of punk, he was a piss-poor musician. Rather, he was in the band because he perfectly embodied punk. It was a movement which, as I understand it, arose from a reaction against the dying embers of the free-love, doped-up Hippie revolution. It appealed to poor kids from the shit-holes of England who had no means of escape. England was in economic collapse. The Pistols reacted angrily. If society had no place for them, then society could go fuck itself. They advocated anarchy. They were nihilistic. They were getting the fuck out of Bermondsey. But, in typically English fashion, despite the furore they were basically harmless. (It's no accident that Johnny Rotten ended up as a much-loved star of reality TV, Ozzy Osbourne stylee.)

Like I said, when Sid met Nancy, he was a rock star, but also a depressed, messed up kid. Nancy was just another groupie, and he fell in love with her at the same time as he fell in love with heroin. He left her for a US tour missing her all the way. She sold herself, but carried on loving him. Reunited they carried on abusing drugs and loving each other in an almost naive and casually self-destructive way. It all ended in her much-documented death in the Chelsea Hotel, and his overdose shortly after.

Writer/director Alex Cox, who later wrote the screenplay for FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS, brilliantly communicates the tangled mess that resulted in their tragic deaths. He conveys their love and the abusive nature of their relationship. Gary Oldman is beautiful and intense as Sid. Chloe Webb, who'd later end up in family-comedy hell (TWINS), is vulnerable and love-able as Nancy. A classic example of the power behind the performance is the scene where she tells her mum that she got married over the phone and her mum doesn't believe her. It's sad and frightening at the same time. And the cast features a bunch of people we recognise from British TV including the ridiculously talented comedienne Kathy Burke. The movie also features an eery cameo from Courtney Love, more of whom in tomorrow's review.....

Behind the camera, Roger Deakins (later famous as the Coen Brothers regular DP) squeezes memorable visuals from the low budget. The contrast between grey, decrepit, washed out England and the almost Hollywood beautiful American landscape is stark. Nancy may feel she has come from suburban hell, but to Sid it's paradise. It's sweet to watch a notorious star behaving so courteously at grandma's house. I also like the writing and framing of the final scene of the film where Sid dances happily with some kids in New York. You really feel that he was just a good kid who searched for love and happiness in the wrong place.

It's also worth pointing out how good the production design is. The movie's shot on location and real care has been paid in the details. A classic example is that you can see the old Conservative election posters on the walls. But the real coup was persuading Glen Matlock to be music director and play bass when the cast play the classic Pistols songs. And that again was a great choice. Having actors lip synch to the classics would've been far more artificial and distracting than just having them re-interpret them.

SID AND NANCY was originally released in 1986 and is available on DVD.

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