Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sid & Nancy (Collector's Edition) (1986)

Sid & NancyWhat I enjoyed most about Sid and Nancy was the profile of the Sex Pistols who (unfortunately) are only a vicarious part of the plot. I know that Johnny Lydon did not approve of this film, but I absolutely loved Schofield's portrayal of him here. In fact, he almost steals the spotlight from the train wreck that is the relationship between the main protagonists. I also thought that technically this film was outstanding. My favorite scene involved the press/party boat. After it was forcibly docked, the shot of Sid and Nancy gliding through the melee was exceptional. This movie has something in common with all period pieces we remember--it is incredibly well-done. My own appreciation for the film, however, was sabotaged by the fact that I was not even remotely interested in the love affair between Sid and Nancy. I found the gradual disintegration of their lives to rather depressing.

I think Sid & Nancy might just be the best rock-based biographical film yet done. Better than Oliver Stone's The Doors, better than last year's dismal Brian Jones flick whose name isn't worthy of being repeated here. The reason Sid & Nancy rises above the rest can be summed up in one word: talent. Sid & Nancy is the result of a passionate filmmaker getting near-perfect performances from his well-chosen cast, of welding great music and attention-grabbing scenery to a modern tragedy that touches many emotions. The result is a five-star film.

People are surprised when I tell them the Sex Pistols rank among my all-time favorite groups. No, I was never a punk, and besides, when I was growing up `70's punk bands were mostly curiosities from modern pop culture history, but I do like the music the Sex Pistols produced on their one and only legitimate album, and the film Sid & Nancy, much criticized by pompous purists and much praised by most everyone else, is a chronicle of that era and two of its most infamously doomed participants. The chameleonic Gary Oldman brings Sid Vicious not only to life, he somehow surpasses the original to vicariously embody a character more memorable than the flesh and blood young man on whom the role is based. Likewise Chloe Webb (who really deserved better career choices than she got after this movie) brings the manic-depressive Nancy Spungen back from the grave in all her alienating, irritatingly pathetic hideousness.

Some say this movie takes liberties with the timeline of Sid and Nancy's short lives, and others say it manages to glamorize them for the wrong things. Probably legitimate gripes, I'll grant, but there are also those who refuse to see the greatness in, say, Shakespeare's Richard III, because the fictionalized villain bears scant resemblance to the real man. That's much the same case here. For all one might say in criticism of this movie, Alex Cox did the impossible and revived the decaying, culture-shocked world of 1970's London, and against that stage he crafted a story that works well. Sid & Nancy is about drugs, music, twisted love between two misfit human beings, needless death, and a revolutionary movement that imploded on its nihilism even as its message was lost on the masses. Sid & Nancy is not only about Sid and Nancy, so emblematic of their time and place, it is the tragic chronicle of the spirit of misguided post-adolescent reaction against a dismal age.

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I think many people don't have the right feelings about this film. Empathy being one of them. Although Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungeon could indeed be described as two wastes of sperm and eggs, empty and apathetic as they lie on their beds strung out on heroin in one scene, we have to acknowledge their backgrounds and their ages. Sid, bassist with 70s punk band The Sex Pistols and Nancy, his American groupie girlfriend, were just a pair of misguided teenagers. Nobody is perfect at the age of nineteen or twenty, nobody really knows exactly what they want to do in life. And there are a lot of young people, who at that age, can't see a future for themselves.

We may very well say drugs are bad and drug addicts deserve no respect, both of the above being true. But the fact is that this is being too narrow minded. Those of us who have had wonderful childhoods and loving parents to guide us through those turbulent teenage years may scoff and scorn at the films title characters, as we see them embark on the doomed journey of drug abuse with only one end in mind. Sid might have been an intelligent, bright and witty young man, Nancy could have had the chance to fix her life if her parents hadn't given up on her and sent her packing. This film is a remarkable movie, one that should be watched with empathy, as it replays the ill fated romance of punk's 'Romeo and Juliet' I understand John Lydon when he scorned the film, but no movie can ever capture real life. As a teenager recovering from the draining world of drugs, depression and apathy, I have to say that this movie accurately portrays the effects of drug abuse.

The drugs do eventually end up taking control of you, and there is nothing more dangerous than having a friend or lover who feels the same despair that you do. Trying to escape the dark hole of drugs seems almost impossible in that scenario. I think this film is an excellent portrayal of the effects of drug abuse, of the 70s punk scene, of the blurry details surrounding Nancy's death.

It's a pity the film was given an R rating, because a lot more young people should see this movie. Sex Pistols fans may also ike to see this movie, maybe to gain an idea of the helplessness of Sid and Nancy's situation. For all those drug addicts out there, I just wanna say, you should see this film before you "climb the ladder to the poppy". During a time when I was stupid enough to want to become a junkie, this movie saved my life. The scene that hit me the hardest was one of the last, where Sid tries desperately to get out of the hotel room he and Nancy share, tries desperately to escape Nancy's rantings of death, before engaging in the scuffle that got her killed.

It may or may not have happened in real life, but I had never felt so suffocated watching a movie before, watching helplessly as Sid's fingers reach for the latch on the door but don't quite make it. I won't give the ending away, but many people have scoffed it. I think it worked very well and understood and exactly the irony that Alex Cox was getting at. Maybe some of you will understand it too. But you have to watch it to find out..You can watch this movie with feelings of disgust, scorn, helplessness and sadness. But this move made me personally, empathise with Sid and Nancy, two lost children in a vast world, searching for something that can't be found. And although many punks made it through the seventies, supress your contempt when watching this movie, and feel sadness for those who didn't.

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Probably the benchmark of the punk rock movie genre is this beautifully lyrical love story of destruction. If you're reading this review, you probably don't need the plot spelled out for you, but for those who need it: Sid was the bassist for the original English punk band, the Sex Pistols, and Nancy was the groupie/girlfriend who sent him spiraling to self-destruction. The film is based on their true romance, and is a heartbreaking and aching portrayal of nihilism and narcissism.

Gary Oldman, back when he was a lean and hungry actor at the top of his craft, puts in a stunning tour de force performance as doomed druggie Sid Vicious, while Courtney Love has a pre-fame bit part as groupie Gretchen (a precursor to her real later life with Kurt Cobain, as detailed in Nick Broomfield's "Kurt and Courtney").

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This has got to be the best film that I've seen about drug addiction and the emptiness of people who fall into it. The decline and death of the protagonists are frightening and depressing, so well acted that it is horribly, completely believable. Oldam and Webb are simply brilliant. Webb is totally believable as a border line personality, at times sensitive, but suddenly abusive and paranoid it is subtle and perfectly acted.

But the film is much more than that. There is also a twisted love between two people who can only be described as complete losers: Sid, who is nothing but a youth disaster become celebrity by chance and Nancy, a suburban cast-off who has wandered into the drug world, S&M for pay, and a pathetic search for groupie association with stardom. While almost nothing on their own, together they enter a downward spiral that can result only in death. Together they are far worse than zero. You helplessly witness their descent into a hell of addiction and chaos.

Finally, there is a wonderful evocation of their milieu: the late-70s punk scene. I recall, as a middle-aged man, how this was the first youth movement in which I had no desire to participate: I had been a late-comer hippy and was aspiring to academia when this started. It was the first "movement" that repulsed me personally, that I had no desire whatsoever to mimic. In this film, you see how talentless and nihilistic punk really was, but also how it had the raw energy of urban youth in societies that could offer them nothing of value. Gone are the ideals and dreams of the 60s. Their chaos and drugs and indirection in the end were all that they had, so they lived it unto self-destruction. Their scene, as portrayed in this film, was a revelation to me and is brilliantly evoked.

Reccommended with enthusiasm. This is like a modern Balzacian tale of meaningless annihilation, a rememberance of a time, and a perfect work of art.

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