Sid and Nancy
|Sid and Nancy|
US theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alex Cox|
|Produced by||Eric Fellner|
|Written by||Alex Cox
|Music by||Joe Strummer
Pray for Rain
|Edited by||David Martin|
|Distributed by||Samuel Goldwyn Company (1986, original)
MGM (DVD, 2003)
|Running time||112 minutes|
Sid and Nancy (also known as Sid and Nancy: Love Kills) is a 1986 British biopic directed by Alex Cox. The film portrays the life of Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman), bassist of the seminal punk rock band the Sex Pistols, and his relationship with girlfriend Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb).
The film opens with several police officers dragging Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) out of the Hotel Chelsea following the death of his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb). Vicious is soon driven to a police station and upon arrival is asked to describe what happened.
A few months earlier in 1978, Vicious and Johnny Rotten (Andrew Schofield) meet Spungen, a groupie who has come to London to bed the Sex Pistols. Vicious dismisses her at first, but starts dating her after she sells him heroin; it is implied that she introduces him to the drug. The two fall deeply in love, but their self-destructive, drug-fueled relationship frays Vicious' relationship with the rest of the band, which eventually breaks up in the midst of a disastrous American tour.
Vicious attempts to start a solo career with Spungen as his manager, only to be dismissed as a has-been. By now, both he and Spungen are heavily addicted to heroin, and Spungen has spiraled into a deep depression. It ends tragically one night when, during an argument in which Vicious announces his plans to stop using heroin and return to England, a suicidal Spungen begs him to kill her. They fight in a drug-induced haze, and he stabs her, although whether or not it was intentional is left to interpretation. They fall asleep and later Spungen awakes and stumbles into the bathroom, where she collapses and dies.
Vicious is released on bail. After getting a pizza, some kids convince him to dance with them. In the meanwhile, a taxi with Nancy riding in the back seat picks Vicious up and drives away as Sid and Nancy embrace. The postscript then says that Vicious died of a heroin overdose: "Nancy and Sid R.I.P."
- Gary Oldman as Sid Vicious
- Chloe Webb as Nancy Spungen
- David Hayman as Malcolm McLaren
- Debby Bishop as Phoebe
- Andrew Schofield as Johnny Rotten
- Xander Berkeley as Bowery Snax, drug dealer
- Courtney Love as Gretchen
- Perry Benson as Paul Cook
- Tony London as Steve Jones
- Barbara Coles as Reporter
The film, originally titled Love Kills, is largely based on the mutually destructive, drug- and sex-filled relationship between Vicious and Spungen. Vicious' mother, Anne Beverley, initially tried to prevent the film from being made. After meeting with Cox, however, she decided to help the production; for example, Beverley gave Oldman Vicious' own heavy metal chain and padlock to wear in the film.
Some of the supporting characters are composites, invented to streamline the plot. Oldman lost weight to play the emaciated Vicious by eating nothing but "steamed fish and lots of melon", but was briefly hospitalized when he lost too much weight.
Courtney Love recorded an infamous video audition in which she exclaimed, "I am Nancy Spungen." Cox was impressed by Love's audition, but has said the film's investors insisted on an experienced actress for the co-leading role. Therefore, instead, Love was cast in the relatively minor role of Gretchen (a part that Cox wrote specifically for her benefit), one of Sid and Nancy's New York junkie friends. Cox would later cast Love as one of the leads in his movie Straight to Hell (1987). Coincidentally, Love would be compared to Spungen later in life on account of her marriage to Kurt Cobain.
In his 2007 autobiography, Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash revealed that the casting director hired all five members of Guns N' Roses as extras for a club scene, having coincidentally scouted them in different locations without their knowledge. He said "all of us showed up to the first day of casting, like 'Hey...what are you doing here?'" However, Slash was the only one in the group to stay for the entire shoot.
Webb and Oldman improvised the dialogue heard in the scene leading up to Spungen's death but based it on interviews and other materials available to them. The stabbing scene is fictionalized and based only on conjecture. Cox told the New Musical Express: "We wanted to make the film not just about Sid Vicious and punk rock, but as an anti-drugs statement, to show the degradation caused to various people is not at all glamorous."
The original music is by Pray for Rain, Joe Strummer, and The Pogues. A track by Tears For Fears ("Swords and Knives") was also recorded for the film but was rejected by the filmmakers for not being "punk" enough. The track later surfaced on the band's Seeds of Love album in 1989.
The film was rated R in the US for "drug use, language, violence, sexuality, and nudity". Prominent musicians made appearances in the film, including: Circle Jerks, Courtney Love, Iggy Pop, Nico, and Edward Tudor-Pole of Tenpole Tudor.
Reception and legacy
Sid and Nancy received generally positive reviews from critics. From the reviews collected from notable publications by popular review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an overall approval rating of 91%, with the consensus, "Visceral, energetic, and often very sad, Sid & Nancy is also a surprisingly touching love story, and Gary Oldman is outstanding as the late punk rock icon Sid Vicious." Roger Ebert gave Sid and Nancy four-out-of-four in his review for The Chicago Sun-Times, writing that Cox and his crew "pull off the neat trick of creating a movie full of noise and fury, and telling a meticulous story right in the middle of it." Appearing on The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, Ebert said, to agreement from Rivers and applause from the audience, that Oldman "definitely won't be [Oscar] nominated – and should be", this being for the reason that "Hollywood will not nominate an actor for portraying a creep, no matter how good the performance is". In a subsequent article on Oldman, Ebert referred to the movie's titular couple as "punk rock's Romeo and Juliet."
In his book Sid Vicious: Rock N' Roll Star, Malcolm Butt describes Webb's performance as Spungen as "intense, powerful, and most important of all, believable." Oldman's portrayal of Vicious was ranked #62 in Premiere magazine's "100 Greatest Performances of All Time". Issue #117 of Uncut magazine (February 2007) ranked Gary Oldman as #8 in its "10 Best actors in rockin' roles" list, describing his portrayal as a "hugely sympathetic reading of the punk figurehead as a lost and bewildered manchild." In 2011, Total Film said of the performance, "It's an early high point in Oldman's varied career that showed just what the young actor was made of. Playing the part of an icon known and beloved by many comes with its own demands and risks, but Oldman more than rises to the challenge, completely transforming into the troubled punk bassist." The magazine described Oldman's rendition of "My Way" as "fantastic – [it] might even be better than Sid's original version." In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked Sid and Nancy as the third-best rock movie ever made, and in 2014, ShortList named it the ninth-greatest music biopic of all time.
Not all reviews of the film were positive. Leslie Halliwell had little praise for the movie: "Some have said stimulating, most have preferred revolting. Consensus, an example of the dregs to which cinema has been reduced." He also cited a line from a review that appeared in Sight & Sound: "Relentlessly whingeing performances and a lengthy slide into drugs, degradation and death make this a solemnly off-putting moral tract."
Andrew Schofield was ranked #1 in Uncut magazine's "10 Worst actors in rockin' roles", which described his performance as Sex Pistols lead singer Johnny Rotten (real name John Lydon) as a "short-arse Scouse Bleasdale regular never once looking like he means it". Commentary on the Criterion DVD dismisses the film's portrayal of Lydon as wholly inaccurate. Paul Simonon of The Clash also criticised the movie for portraying Lydon as "some sort of fat, bean-slurping idiot."
John Lydon's reaction
I cannot understand why anyone would want to put out a movie like Sid and Nancy and not bother to speak to me; Alex Cox, the director, didn’t. He used as his point of reference - of all the people on this earth - Joe Strummer! That guttural singer from The Clash? What the fuck did he know about Sid and Nancy? That’s probably all he could find, which was really scraping the bottom of the barrel. The only time Alex Cox made any approach toward me was when he sent the chap who was playing me over to New York where I was. This actor told me he wanted to talk about the script. During the two days he was there, he told me that the film had already been completed. The whole thing was a sham. It was a ploy to get my name used in connection with the film, in order to support it.
To me this movie is the lowest form of life. I honestly believe that it celebrates heroin addiction. It definitely glorifies it at the end when that stupid taxi drives off into the sky. That's such nonsense. The squalid New York hotel scenes were fine, except they needed to be even more squalid. All of the scenes in London with the Pistols were nonsense. None bore any sense of reality. The chap who played Sid, Gary Oldman, I thought was quite good. But even he only played the stage persona as opposed to the real person. I don’t consider that Gary Oldman's fault because he’s a bloody good actor. If only he had the opportunity to speak to someone who knew the man. I don’t think they ever had the intent to research properly in order to make a seriously accurate movie. It was all just for money, wasn't it? To humiliate somebody’s life like that - and very successfully - was very annoying to me. The final irony is that I still get asked questions about it. I have to explain that it's all wrong. It was all someone else’s fucking fantasy, some Oxford graduate who missed the punk rock era. The bastard.
When I got back to London, they invited me to a screening. So I went to see it and was utterly appalled. I told Alex Cox, which was the first time I met him, that he should be shot, and he was quite lucky I didn't shoot him. I still hold him in the lowest light. Will the real Sid please stand up?
As for how I was portrayed, well, there's no offense in that. It was so off and ridiculous. It was absurd. Champagne and baked beans for breakfast? Sorry. I don't drink champagne. He didn't even speak like me. He had a Scouse accent. Worse, there's a slur implied in the movie that I was jealous of Nancy, which I find particularly loathsome. There is that implication that I feel was definitely put there. I guess that’s Alex Cox showing his middle class twittery. It’s all too glib, it’s all too easy.
Strummer claimed to have met with Alex Cox for the first time after the completion of the film, at a wrap party, but this is not entirely accurate. The wrap party was actually the conclusion of the London phase of the filming, which was followed by filming in Los Angeles and New York City, performed by a largely different crew. The pair's meeting involved discussion over soundtrack work for the film, not the film's script.
In a later interview, Lydon was asked the question, "Did the movie get anything right?" to which he replied: "Maybe the name Sid." Cox's attitude toward his subjects was indeed unapologetically negative, writing that "Sid had sold out, contributed nothing of value, died an idiot." Cox went on to say that one of the reasons he was attracted to the project was that he was afraid that if someone else made it, it would portray its subjects as "real exemplars of Punk like I am; rather than sold-out traitors to it." He acknowledged that Lydon's hatred of the movie was "understandable, given that it was based on incidents from his life and centered around one of his friends." The other remaining Pistols have been far less outspoken about the movie than Lydon, although Lydon claimed that Paul Cook was more upset over the movie than he was.
According to Cox, both he and Andrew Schofield (who played Lydon in the film) did meet with Lydon before the filming. According to Cox, Lydon noticed that Schofield was, like Cox, a Liverpudlian, rather than a Londoner like Lydon, and encouraged him to play the part as a Scouser rather than a Londoner. Cox took this as a sign that both of them agreed that it would be better to portray a more fictionalized version of the characters rather than a cold re-telling of facts. Cox claims that Lydon drank heavily at these meetings, which may explain why Lydon did not recall them. Cox stated in a book that contrary to Lydon's claims, his meeting with Schofield was not after the film's completion, but rather before Schofield had even been given the part. He was offered the part the next day.
Awards and nominations
- Critics Award: 1986
- Most Promising Newcomer - Actor: Gary Oldman - 1987
The official soundtrack contains no songs sung by either the Sex Pistols or Sid Vicious. Much of the actual film's soundtrack (as opposed to soundtrack album) was composed by Joe Strummer, who was contractually limited to contribute only two songs. Nevertheless, he continued to contribute more (unpaid) work because of his interest in the project and composing for film in general. This additional material was credited to fictitious bands in the credits, so as to keep Strummer's label, Epic Records, from knowing what he had done. Another large portion of the music was composed by The Pogues.
|"Love Kills" (Title Track)||Joe Strummer|
|"Pleasure and Pain"||Steve Jones|
|"Chinese Choppers"||Pray for Rain|
|"Love Kills"||Circle Jerks|
|"Off the Boat"||Pray for Rain|
|"Dum Dum Club"||Joe Strummer|
|"Burning Room"||Pray for Rain|
|"She Never Took No for an Answer"||John Cale|
|"I Wanna Be Your Dog"||Gary Oldman|
|"My Way"||Gary Oldman|
|"Taxi to Heaven"||Pray for Rain|
Sid and Nancy was first released on DVD by The Criterion Collection in the late 1990s; this version has since gone out of print. MGM has since regained home video distribution rights and released an edition on DVD in 2003.
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|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Sid and Nancy|
- Sid and Nancy at the Internet Movie Database
- Sid and Nancy at AllMovie
- Sid and Nancy at Box Office Mojo
- Sid and Nancy at Rotten Tomatoes
- Sid and Nancy at GaryOldman.info
- Sid and Nancy page on Alex Cox website
- Criterion Collection essay by Jon Savage