Plot: What’s it about?
At the heart of the punk movement in the 1970s was a band called The Sex Pistols, who inspired all sorts of listeners to take on a new approach to life. These guys were loud, brash, rude, filthy, foul mouthed, and they smelled bad, but thousands of fans followed their every move. The streets were filled with them, people with strange hairstyles, leather jackets, and tattered T-shirts, all of whom loved their punk rock music. But the music and dress were simple elements of the lives of Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb), who lived in a world mired with depression, violence, and drug addiction. Sid was the bass player for The Sex Pistols, but his success meant little aside from more cash for drugs and the like, which caused his life to always be out of control. Soon, Sid and Nancy’s antics force the band to break up and that leaves them in dire need. The two have no money, no opportunities, and even less hope for their futures. But they do have each other, although even that might not be enough for them.
I am never much for movies that chronicle the lives of real musicians, but Sid & Nancy has always an exception to that rule for me. I admit that I am not an expert on punk music or The Sex Pistols, but I think this movie is a real modern classic and worthy of a place in any film fan’s collection. The path taken to tell the story uses some bad choices, but in the end, the superb performances from Chloe Webb and Gary Oldman save this one in serious fashion. Their love is the sole focus of this motion picture, so it was crucial for them to bring that love across and did they ever. They argue in fine form, they fight in fine form, and they romance in fine form, the two never miss a beat here. The more than solid direction of Alex Cox also adds a lot to the film, though the writing could have used some work here and there.
His name might not always be mentioned alongside the elite in acting, but Gary Oldman is one of the finest characters in the business. He doesn’t just play his roles, he becomes them and infuses his screen time with passion. This role is no exception and Oldman is almost scary at times, he seems so much like his character. He has a raw edge in this film that really comes off well, perhaps even elevating the movie a couple notches in the process. Oldman simply owns the screen in Sid & Nancy, with an energy and presence that have helped define him as an excellent performer. You can also see Oldman in such pictures as Leon: The Professional, True Romance, The Fifth Element, Air Force One, Romeo Is Bleeding, The Scarlet Letter, and Immortal Beloved. The cast also includes Chloe Webb (Twins, Practical Magic), Debby Bishop (Scrubbers, Redneck Zombies), Perry Benson (The Last Seduction II), David Hayman (The Boxer, Vertical Limit), Andrew Schofield (Shark Hunt, No Surrender), and Xander Berkeley (Gattaca, Shanghai Noon). Alex Cox served as director on this movie and he also helmed films such as Repo Man, Three Businessmen, The Winner, Straight To Hell, Walker, and Death and the Compass.
Video: How does it look?
This title has seen various formats over the last 30 years since it was released, but none can really compare to the treatment that Criterion has give it this time around. Sharp folks will remember that this was an early Criterion DVD title, but that’s been a while and technology has certainly benefitted this new restoration. The 1.85:1 AVC HD image is clearly (pun fully intended) the best the movie has ever looked and the contrast is a little more on target than in the previous version. While there are some segments with some fairly heavy grain, that do give the movie a rather dated look. While it’s not quite as sharp and detailed as other releases, compared to this film’s predecessors on the format – this looks heads and tails better than I’d ever have expected.
Audio: How does it sound?
A new DTS HD Master Audio mix has been minted for the movie and it sounds pretty darn good as well. There are some moments when the soundtrack really opens up, this is when the music really shines through and given the breadth of music in the film, it’s a nice and welcome addition. The dialogue sounds about average, a little better than the standard DVD. Surrounds are surprisingly active throughout, though. Again, modern day action films blow this away, but considering how this has sounded in the past – it’s a major improvement.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The film has been around and was given a rather lackluster release on Blu-ray a few years ago. But that was before Criterion got their hands on it. And as any fan knows, this has been in Criterion’s catalog for several years. New material has been added to this release and it’s all worth checking out. Without further ado…
- Audio Commentaries – The first of two commentaries features co-writer Abbe Wool, actors Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb, cultural historian Greil Marcus, filmmakers Julien Temple and Lech Kowalski, and musician Eliot Kidd. If memory serves, this appeared on the original Criterion DVD of the title. The second is from 2001 and features co-writer/director Alex Cox and actor Andrew Schofield.
- England’s Glory – Martin Turner’s rarely seen 1987 documentary on the making of Sid & Nancy might be the best feature of the bunch. Gritty and informative, it epitomizes everything the movie set out to accomplish.
- Bill Grundy – The infamous interview with the Sex Pistols on British television.
- Sid Vicious – A rare telephone interview, conducted by photographer Roberta Bayley, with Sid Vicious from January 19th, 1978, five days after the last Sex Pistols concert and three days after experiencing a nonfatal overdose.
- D.O.A.: A Right of Passage – Bits and pieces are taken from the 1980 documentary that feature some interviews with Sid and Nancy.
- Alex Cox – A rather new (2016) interview with director Alex Cox is a welcome addition to the set as he sheds some light on the project.
- The London Weekend Show – From November 1976 and running nearly 15 minutes, this is the segment in its entirety.
- Sad Vacation – Officially entitled Sad Vacation: The Last Days of Sid and Nancy, this is a 2016 documentary by Danny Garcia with some accounts from Roberts Bayley, Victor Colicchio, Bob Gruen and John Holstrom among others.
- Theatrical Trailer
- Illustrated Booklet – An essay by author Jon Savage and a 1986 piece compiled by Cox about Vicious, Spungen, and the making of the film
The Bottom Line
This is a music-lover’s delight and it’s high time that Criterion got around to this one. The new features, new 4K restoration and addition of a DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack combine to form a near perfect edition. While the subject matter might not be for everyone, it features some fine performances by Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb. If the 70’s punk rock scene is your thing, adding this to your collection is a no-brainer.