Friday, November 5, 2010
Sid & Nancy (1986) * * *
Directed by: Alex Cox
Starring: Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb
I simply can't imagine why someone would ever want to even try heroin, especially after watching the depths in which Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen sank to in Sid & Nancy. By the end, their lives were but an existence. They were dead, but just forgot to stop breathing. The second half of the film is devoted to the quick downward spiral the two lovers were in. Whole days drifted out of focus and sometimes the drugs left them without even the energy to extinguish a fire that threatened to destroy their fleabag hotel room. Sid Vicious, as played by Gary Oldman, is a study in unusual celebrity. He had no real talent and became the face and personality of The Sex Pistols in the public eye, mostly because he was such a fuckup. He was told in no uncertain terms by the band's management that he was only in the band because his fucking up created publicity and cash. He was the train wreck that, while horrifying, you couldn't turn away from. While he was The Sex Pistols bass player, his abilities were nil and at times the band would unplug his bass.
His attempts at a post-Sex Pistols career included a version of My Way that is painful to hear. Through all this, he and Nancy were clinging to each other as their lives turned into nothing. Nancy's role in Sid's life is that of a driving force. She does what she can to get him paid more than he's worth. Part of this is because she believes in him and part of it is to feed their drug habit. But, according to this film, it seems Sid and Nancy might've been able to live happily together under different circumstances. To listen to the remaining members of The Sex Pistols talk, she was the devil incarnate. The truth probably lies somewhere in between. To say that Sid would've been OK if he never met Nancy would be inaccurate. His mother isn't brought up in the movie, but she was a heroin addict herself and played a key role in his death. He would've found other ways to stay messed up because that was the only way he felt he could be accepted.
The second half of Sid & Nancy is better than the first because of its unrelenting images of a hermitic existence. The first half kind of hits key points in the budding Sid & Nancy relationship, but overall The Sex Pistols were hardly used at all. Cox chose to focus more on the destruction that heroin had on two lost souls. If I sound a bit sympathetic, well it's because how could you not be? It's difficult not to feel sorry for people whose lives are not worth living. By the time Nancy was stabbed to death (the movie claims it was an accident, but in reality it may have been more deliberate), death must've been a welcome relief.
If you judge by the end in which Sid gets into a cab ride with his dearly departed, death must've been very welcomed by Sid also. That scene is quite powerful because Nancy is dressed in all white, almost as an angel, which is maybe how Sid saw her even during the worst of times.
Gary Oldman's career has been pretty steady since this film. He has played villains, creeps, heroes, and oddballs. Here, he is playing someone who earns sympathy without even trying. Would Sid have wanted sympathy? Probably not, but Oldman's portrayal of an inarticulate addict is genuine and engrossing. Where has Chloe Webb gone? After this and Twins, she has pretty much fallen off the face of the Earth, but in Sid & Nancy she creates a person who may have been a decent agent if her life didn't get destroyed by heroin. She's pushy, plucky, but also loves Sid even if the rest of the world doesn't.
Both actors are courageous in their portrayals of two people made for each other, even if the results were tragic.