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Movie Review: Sid and Nancy – Punk Love, Drugs, and Music

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Sid and Nancy (1986), directed by Alex Cox, stars Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious, Chloe Webb (Nancy Spungen), David Hayman (Malcolm), Andrew Schoefield (John Lyndon), Xander Berkley (Bowery Snax), Perry Benson (Paul), and Courtney Love (Gretchen).

The thing about a movie like this that it can't really go wrong, even if it's not all it could be. It's sort of like Back Beat that way. The narrative focuses on the relationship between Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. This is recent history, even more so when it was made, so there's bound to be the requisite bickering about whether or not it's true to the actual persons depicted in it. It really doesn't work that way, no matter how much a movie claims to be “based on a true story”. The best you can hope for is a movie that captures something of the essence of things and makes them interesting enough that the viewer can get something out of them.

I saw this one back in the day, and frankly I have no idea what possessed me to see it again now. I must have had a punk moment. It happens.

This is Gary Oldman's film debut and he is frighteningly good as the out of control Sid. Chloe Webb is equally good as the high-strung Nancy. Everything hinges on that. I remember her whiny, annoying voice from the first time I watched this and it doesn't get any less irritating with time.

There's always been controversy around whether or not Sid could even play the bass, but in the context of what they were doing Sid was the embodiment of the punk attitude. What he lacked in skill he made up for in attitude and this movie focuses on that as well, with a rail thin Oldman posturing, prancing, and beating up members of the audience.

It is also a good depiction of the gradual decline of Sid and Nancy as they grow increasingly dependent on drugs. Nancy was supposedly the person who introduced Sid to heroin. It is very much a sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll movie with a seriously kick-ass soundtrack, no matter how bad the music is at times.

There are moments of levity; there's also big time drama and watching this train wreck of a relationship unfold really puts the 'fun' in dysfunctional. It is a beautiful disaster all the way through. It also has moments of fantasy and surrealism, such as the music video-like sequence in which Sid performs his version of "My Way" or the final scenes where Nancy comes to fetch Sid in a cab.

The look and feel of the movie has stood the test of time really well, leaving it feeling like a documentary in some ways and a completely fictional piece of Peter Pan fantasy in others. I have real issues with that last scene, but it fits the Romeo and Juliet aspect of the thing.

The movie is told in a semi-circular fashion, starting as Sid is arrested for Nancy's murder in the Chelsea Hotel in New York, so even the viewer who knows nothing about the couple will see that this can only end badly right from the start.

It's also somehow reassuring to know that Johnny Rotten spews vitriol over this movie whenever he's asked about it. Reality always trumps fiction, and movies are always fiction, which is a good thing to keep in mind.

Sid Vicious died of an overdose of heroin his mother injected him with after he got out of Riker's Island Prison on bail waiting to stand trial for Nancy Spungen's murder. It's said his mother did this deliberately. Life is stranger than fiction no matter how strange the fiction is and that's why I recommend this movie.

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