Sid and Nancy – A Punk Film of Two Halfs.
Above Photo: The real Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen.
I recently watched a Punk film called Sid and Nancy, which told the story of former Sex Pistol Sid Vicious and his doomed relationship with Nancy Spungen.
Although produced in 1986, I’d never seen it before and only had negative impressions of it from various things I’d read over the years. I watched it just to get a feel of how ‘Punk’ has been portrayed in film since the late 1970s, especially relevant now my own Punk and New Wave book, Bombed Out! has been optioned.
I’ll not mince my words about Sid and Nancy – it was really two films in one, the first, an absolutely fucking clownish, pathetic parody of Punk, peopled with cartoonish characters, bad acting, crappy clichés and often absurd dialogue in the London scenes – a real embarrassment of film-making and an appallingly infantile portrayal of Punk.
And then the latter part of the film, set mainly in New York, when Sid and Nancy were slowly killing themselves in the grip of a squalid and powerful heroin addiction. Suddenly the quality of the acting, the drama, the cinematography and the screenplay improved dramatically.
But let’s deal with the bad first:
I was really incensed by the first few minutes of the film. It was Punk as total caricature – by the time they go down into a Punk club where X-Ray Spex are playing, seven minutes into the film, I really was wondering how much more of it I could take. The X-Ray Spex track I’m A Cliche should have been playing, I thought.
The film had got off to a bad start by trying to establish the ‘bad boy’ side of Punk with every ridiculous cliché you could cram into an opening few minutes. From a Rolls Royce Silver Lady being kicked off by Vicious, to some crimson-jacketed Horse Guards trotting down the street past Vicious and Rotten (who I mistook for Captain Sensible in the opening seconds), to trashing and spray painting the insides of a nice flat; no cliche was left unspared.
Some of the screenwriting (and/or over-acting) in the early scenes was bad too. For example: Vicious draping himself over Johhny Rotten in a bar in what was supposed to be the 100 Club saying: “Ey John. You see me nut that hippie? Good eh!?”
But the worst screenwriting moment was when a girl leaves the Sex Pistols’ recording studio, saying:
“Five minutes till last orders. I’m gonna get pissed”
In five fucking minutes?!
Then there were some bad continuity errors – one scene featured the two cheeky chappies who were supposed to be Paul Cook and Steve Jones, looking like a mohaired couple of numbskull extras on a US sitcom. Steve Jones is eating in one shot, then not eating a split second later.
When the band’s tour bus is travelling on a road through green fields in the US, suddenly it’s in the middle of the desert at sunset, then back again in the green fields in broad daylight, as the conversation in the bus goes on without missing a beat.
Chloe Webb, who played Nancy Spungen looked the part – real heroin chic and she also sounded like Spungen too. Gary Oldman, when he wasn’t clowning around in the ridiculous Punk circus at the start of the film, was also brilliant as a Junkie Sid slithering to his doom in their New York Chelsea Hotel hell.
When the film just focused on Sid and Nancy without the stupid direction and overacting of the first part, the squalor and tragedy of their Junkie lifestyle was very well portrayed.
And I enjoyed the awkward scene when the couple visit Spungen’s family and have dinner with them, ending up singing Bodies to her nieces and nephews, before they’re politely but firmly kicked out.
The later scenes in the Chelsea Hotel were poignant and sometimes shocking – the film-makers did a superb job in the New York part of the film. But that had me wondering why they couldn’t have shot the London scenes in the same gritty way, rather than go down the Punk-As-Pantomime route.
Buy a signed copy of Bombed Out! here: http://www.bombedoutpunk.com/buybook.php