This fact-based movie presented the ill-fated romance between Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen.
There is no doubt that the story of Sid and Nancy is one of the most sensational in rock history. On 12 October 1978, as his girlfriend’s body lay in a pool of blood on the bathroom floor of Room 100 in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, Sid was in the bedroom, drenched in blood.
Four months later he died of a massive heroin overdose while awaiting trial for Nancy’s murder. He had been released on bail in New York City just 24-hours earlier.
Newcomer Gary Oldman gives a truly graphic and horrifying performance in a story essentially about wasted lives and wasted talent. Oldman also performed his own vocals in the film, as did the superb Drew Schofield as Johnny Rotten. Ex-founding Pistol Glen Matlock re-recorded the old tracks again for the film.
The film does not inquire into Sid’s history or motives. He is presented as a good-natured, extremely slow-witted youth, bewildered by drink, drugs, adulation and his inexplicable gift for creating sounds capable of exciting young teen audiences to a frenzy.
He is certainly portrayed as the dimmest and most unprotected of the group, far dimmer than Johnny Rotten and certainly than their Mephistophelian promoter and manager Malcolm McLaren (David Hayman).
Sid’s dependence on Nancy is understandable. Despite a brain addled by heroin and her fits of infantile hysteria, she is still a much stronger character than the feeble Sid, providing a shaky illusion of support and security.
The central performances are extraordinary, exploring all the dimensions of these wispy people. Chloe Webb, an American stage actress, plays Nancy with shrill, desperate defiance: and her face – ghastly white, prematurely middle-aged and with a pinched purple mouth like a cartoon character – simulates the ravages of drugs with frightening effectiveness.
As with all portrayals of punk, its authenticity can be, and was, questioned. The real Johnny Rotten was unimpressed. He was horrified when he saw the movie at a press screening and declared it a film made by evil people who only did it for the money.
Director Alex Cox claimed, meanwhile, that his prime motivation for making the film was in fact to stop the production of a planned Hollywood movie version of the story, set to star Madonna and Rupert Everett. The director said he felt it was his duty “to prevent that from happening at all costs”.
Nothing dates an era more than its vision of the 70s, and Cox’s hotchpotch of punk rock biography and ‘social observation’ now seems to stem from a further-off era than that which it documents.
Flawed, but still worth taking in the performances (especially Rotten and McLaren) and watching out for, in ascending order of glamour, Courtney Love, Kathy Burke and Ed “Whoooo Kiiiiilled Bambiiii?” Tudor-Pole.