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Miscellaneous - Film

  by Adrian Janes

published: 23 / 8 / 2016

Miscellaneous - Film


Adrian Janes finds that the thirtieth anniversary reissue of Alex Cox's film about the tortuous relationship of Sex Pistol Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen depresses as much as it compels

It’s a year of anniversaries for punk rock, forty years on from ‘Anarchy in the UK’, ‘New Rose’ and the festival at the 100 Club that launched the first incarnation of Siouxsie and the Banshees: on drums, Sid Vicious. ‘Sid & Nancy’, the film of his and Nancy Spungen’s doomed, drugged affair, made in 1986 just a few years after Spungen’s murder and Vicious’ death from a heroin overdose, has now been released on DVD ma and again in the cinema to mark its own 30th anniversary. The couple, played by Gary Oldman (in a very early role that’s a long way from Commissioner Gordon) and Chloe Webb, first meet outside a London pub, after she has been in a loud argument over money with people she tells Vicious are junkies. His instinctive concern for her turns to curiosity, and in a manner as casual as ordering one of his beloved pizzas he asks if she can get him some drugs. With typical bravado, he assures her that he’s done heroin before when she injects him for what is actually a first time that leaves him retching yet bafflingly besotted. Spungen, initially so ignorant of the Sex Pistols that she keeps mixing up Vicious and Johnny Rotten while claiming to have “all their albums”, much of the time seems little better than a screeching, whining leech. The couple’s lifestyle has little of the rock star glamour she might have anticipated, director Alex Cox locating much of the action in a nomadic, claustrophobic world that moves through squats, Vicious’ mother’s house and ultimately a squalid room at the Chelsea Hotel in New York. Although his time as a Sex Pistol is powerfully sketched, through scenes like the boat ride performance on the Thames at the time of the Silver Jubilee and a blood-spattered encounter with Texans on the Pistols’ US tour, it lessens in importance the larger Nancy looms. The hostility of the rest of the Pistols to her (especially Andrew Schofield’s perpetually sneering Rotten), and increasingly Sid as well, defensively forces the pair closer together. Manager Malcolm McLaren (an oily David Hayman) attempts to justify the latter’s place to his bandmates, who have tired of his drug-addled incompetence: “Sidney’s more than a mere bass player. He’s a fabulous disaster. He’s a symbol, a metaphor, he embodies the dementia of a nihilistic generation.” After the band’s inevitable split, the film’s attention narrows like that of its damaged heroes’ to scoring drugs (with an art imitating life cameo of Courtney Love as a fellow junkie) and Nancy’s attempt to ‘manage’ his post-Pistols career. Even in this seedy existence there are moments of bruised tenderness, usually of Vicious comforting Spungen. One instance of this also illustrates the humour that spots the film,(usually at the expense of Vicious’ intellect). Lying in bed at the Chelsea he tries to comfort her with the thought that things will improve once they’re in America, to which she caustically points out: “We’re in America. We've been here a week. New York is in America, you fuck.” It’s funny, but was Vicious really that stupid? It’s hard to decide how much the film is meant to be an accurate evocation and how much a caricature. But then it’s also hard to decide how much Vicious himself was knowingly a caricature of the ignorant, violent punk archetype who so thrilled the media, and how much he was simply being himself. Down the decades, various couples have excited both public and media with their mercurial relationships, from Monroe/Miller and Taylor/Burton to Jagger/Faithfull and Cobain/Love. But what distinguishes these couples from Vicious and Spungen is the talent and beauty that ran alongside their mutual torment (torment that in this case included an alleged suicide pact). There’s little sense of any such qualities in Sid and Nancy, whether in the film or the accounts of contemporaries. So why make a film about them? One of its few images that could be described as beautiful is a brief glimpse of the pair in an alley in silhouette. Almost immediately it’s surreally undercut by a hail of rubbish falling all around them. The flowers of this grim romance could only end up in the dustbin.

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