J.D. Lafrance
Sid and Nancy: Criterion Collection DVD Review

Sid and Nancy: Criterion Collection

September 9, 2017

Director: Alex Cox,
Starring: Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb, David Hayman, Debby Bishop, Andrew Schofield, Xander Berkeley, Perry Benson, Tony London,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

Amidst the chaos and confusion of the British punk rock scene in the late 1970s, the Sex Pistols emerged as the most notorious band to come out of that period. It seems like they couldn’t make a move without courting controversy. The band dynamic was highly volatile with their bass player Sid Vicious getting a lot of the media attention. He wasn’t a very good musician but he had a riveting stage presence.

Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy (1986) chronicles Sid’s (Oldman) equally volatile relationship with Nancy Spungen (Webb), a groupie he met in London after having recently joined the Pistols as a goof. She’s a junkie from the United States that literally inserts herself between Sid and his best friend Johnny Rotten (Schofield), lead singer of the band, while also getting him hooked on drugs. Even if you don’t know the actual facts, it isn’t too hard to figure out how this is all going to end and it’s not going to be good.

Gary Oldman was rightly praised for his blistering performance as the dim-witted Sid. He manages the incredible feat of eliciting some empathy for a generally unlikeable fellow. The actor digs deep and gives insights into his Sid’s worldview – such as it is – in unflinching detail. He’s matched beat for beat by Chloe Webb with her own fearless performance as the perpetually annoying Nancy. She bravely adopts a grating voice that does nothing to endear Nancy to us. Webb is not afraid to portray Nancy as a complete and utter mess.

Cox remains true to the punk rock aesthetic by portraying these peoples’ lives without any sentimentality. That’s not to say he doesn’t romanticize them – that’s simply the nature of cinema, but he does everything he can not to glamorize them. Like any great biopic, Sid and Nancy depicts many of the important milestones (the ill-fated U.S. tour) while focusing on what happened between them, which was not as well known. The end result is a powerful drama with two riveting performances at its core.

Special Features:

Criterion’s new 4K transfer is a vast improvement over the MGM one with the colors much more realistic in look. The detail is also deeper and crisper, highlighting Roger Deakin’s fantastic cinematography. This is the best Sid and Nancy has ever looked.

There is an audio commentary recorded in 1994 with screenwriter Abbe Wool, actors Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb, critic Greil Marcus, filmmakers Julien Temple and Lech Kowalski, and musician Eliot Kidd. Kowalski and Kidd are adamant that Sid did not kill Nancy, unlike what is depicted in the film. Temple is also critical of how the British punk rock scene is depicted – pointing out how Schofield got all of Rotten’s mannerisms wrong – but does praise Oldman and Webb. Oldman felt that the script was “okay” but that he, Cox, and Webb improved it during filming. The actor also talks about the responsibility of playing real people and not doing a simple impersonation of Sid. The diverse personalities and opinions make for a fantastic listen.

Also included is a commentary track from 2001 featuring writer/director Alex Cox and actor Andrew Schofield. While the former tends to narrate what we’re watching, the latter offers more anecdotal stories, which encourages Cox to do the same. This is a decent enough track, but lacks the diversity and insight of the 1994 one.

“England’s Glory” is a 1987 making of documentary that was done in a very atypical and irreverent way. It thumbs its nose at these kinds of promos and serves as a fascinating snapshot of the cast and crew making the film.

There is an interview with Cox conducted in 2016. He talks about the origins of Sid and Nancy and how he got involved. He speaks of his love of punk rock music and the movement around it. Cox admits that they sentimentalized Sid and Nancy while also talking about meeting Johnny Rotten. He also covers getting Joe Strummer to score the film even though his record label forbade him to do it.

There are excerpts from the 2016 documentary Sad Vacation: The Last Days of Sid and Nancy, featuring several people that knew them in New York City. They talk about what they were like as this extra provides a more factual side of the couple.

Also includes are excerpts from the 1980 documentary D.O.A.: A Right of Passage, featuring Sid and Nancy during the Pistols U.S. tour. There is fascinating footage of the actual couple that has a whiff of the morbid as they are an unapologetic mess. It is interested to compare it with their fictionalized counterparts.

“Sid Vicious, 1978” is a phone interview conducted five days after the last Pistols concert and three days after he had a nonfatal overdose.

“The Filth and the Fury!” is the infamous Today show appearance where the Sex Pistols were interviewed and provoked into cursing several times on camera, which became an immediate media sensation, shocking England.

“The London Weekend Show” features the Sex Pistols and the British punk rock scene in 1976. The band and their fans are interviewed in this fascinating snapshot of the scene at that time.

Finally, there is a trailer.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance


Rating: 100%

Website: https://www.criterion.com/films/535-sid-nancy


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