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'Sid & Nancy' (R)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 07, 1986

And you think you need a marriage counselor. Sex Pistol Sid Vicious fell head over heels for Nancy Spungen, a fiercely devoted groupie with the personality of a chihuahua. They rocked, rolled and then, just like Romeo and Juliet, the punk paramours met their senseless demise.

"Sid & Nancy," based on their ruined lives, finds a strange sweetness in the obsessive love affair of these Lotus-eaters. Though dark and harrowing, explicit and unsparing, the movie proves a riveting biography of these burnt-out icons and their iconoclastic half-decade.

Director Alex Cox of the cult comedy "Repo Man" outshines that first work with this compassionate and compelling romance, which also serves as his elegy for the era's energizing music.

Cox, with co-writer Abbe Wool and adventurous cinematographer Roger Deakins, winds back the Clockwork Orange that began ticking in the mid '70s -- the heyday of slam-dancers and safety-pin jewelry. Shocking and explicit, there hasn't been so devastating a picture of decadence since "Smithereens."

David Hayman plays punk entrepreneur Malcolm McLaren, who in 1977 invents a nasty band called the Sex Pistols to capitalize on the media's infatuation with things punk. London slum chums Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) and Johnny Rotten (Drew Schofield) make instant headlines with their nihilistic monkeyshines. The group's rise and fall is chronicled in conjunction with Sid's deadly affair with Spungen (Chloe Webb).

Oldman and Webb, of the British and American stage, respectively, vividly portray the star-crossed couple, gaining sympathy for these irredeemable brats. Sid says "Sex is ugly, boring, hippie s--- ," till he finds Nancy, who turns him on, and turns him on to heroin. Soon he's addicted to both. Eventually he kills her, and later dies of an overdose.

Cox sees their story as a metaphor for what happened to their music, which never had a chance to grow old. It's no rock-u-drama, but Oldman performs his own vocals, as does the convincing Schofield, with former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock lovingly rerecording the old tracks. Incidental music (and a lot of thrashing around) is provided by the Pogues, Joe Strummer and Pray for Rain.

Most of the music occurs naturally in the Pistols' spitting, ear-splitting performances, but Cox indulges in the obtrusive (but requisite) video, with Sid singing a furious "My Way" to an audience he then symbolically massacres. Nancy comes back to life in Sid's fogged brain and he joins the figment in a taxi. Three black kids boogeying to hiphop, chase the ghostly cab, heirs to the next musical dynasty.

Symbolism aside, "Sid & Nancy" is an indelible drama of undying love and meaningless decline.

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