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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/5/99

Sid & Nancy
1986 (1998) - New Line (Criterion)

review by Frank Ortiz, special to The Digital Bits

Sid & Nancy: Criterion Program Ratings: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/C+/A-

Specs and Features

111 minutes, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.75:1), single-sided, dual-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary (featuring Gary Oldman, Chloe Webb, co-scriptwriter Abbe Wool, cultural historian and writer Greil Marcus, filmmakers Julien Temple (Great Rock and Roll Swindle) & Lech Kowalski (D.O.A.) and musician Eliott Kidd), 1976 Bill Grundy (BBC Today) interview with The Sex Pistols, making of documentary England's Glory, excerpts from D.O.A.: A Right Of Passage featuring interviews with Sid & Nancy, telephone interview with Sid Vicious by photographer Roberta Bayley, animated film themed menus with music and sound effects, scene access (25 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none

Sometimes, I can't believe that there are punk rock fans in a generation that was not even born before the Dead Kennedys broke up. I used to get disappointed seeing the jock/moshing at a punk rock concert, versus the good old-fashioned slam pit free-for-all. It's not that I'm old, but I guess getting used to change is not always easy. I found it very fitting to see this movie again, now that being a punker is almost "cool" instead of outcast. Here in Orange County, California, there's even a (corporate) "anti-mall", where many remnants of the punk alternative styles can be seen. Don't get me wrong -- I was not quite the punk rock teen for all my adolescent years, but I did grow into much of the attitude, styles and sounds in college.

Sid & Nancy is a movie that may not be for everyone's tastes. I personally enjoyed seeing the bits and pieces of a sub-culture that has grown into our contemporary, diluted pop-culture represented here. The punk movement that occurred during and after the setting of this film, strongly influenced current youth attitude and rock music. Romeo and Juliet this movie isn't, and I didn't quite have a blast seeing two people, with such warped senses of how to express their love when strung out on smack. But Sid & Nancy is an interesting ride, if just for the atmosphere, and the postcard flash of a long distant era.

Historically, the movie begins with Sid's police grilling about the death of his girlfriend Nancy. It's there, that we flash back to the beginning of his story, right about where Sid enters the Sex Pistols. It follows his short career with the UK's growing punk rock band, then looks at his short lived solo career. Considering the title, the film really centers a lot on the twisted relationship between Sid and Nancy, but it also looks at their lives with all the sex, drugs and of course, rock-n-roll. Sid became the bass player of the Sex Pistols without really being able to actually play. But what he lacked in ability, he surely made up in attitude and stage presence. Sid happens upon a professional groupie named Nancy, and begins a roller-coaster ride of drugs and emotion. All of it ends in the Chelsea Hotel in New York, under some curious circumstance that even to this day are debated.

The performances are just outstanding. How can you not like Gary Oldman? No matter what he plays, he does it extremely well. I was very amused in hearing how he introduced himself in the audio commentary. "Hello, my name is Gary Oldman. I have played John, Lee Harvey Oswald, I have played Beethoven, and in this movie, I play Sid Vicious." How amazing is this that? A man that was doing Shakespeare at the time, came to play a punk rock icon. Gary Oldman reminds me why I really enjoyed Immortal Beloved, The Professional, and parts of so many other movies he has been involved with. And Chloe Webb was perfectly cast as Nancy. In the commentary, Chloe shows some neat insight on the character of Nancy, and her sad life. It's an impressive performance by both, Oldman and Webb -- both in the film and the commentary.

The DVD's video quality is actually pretty good, which surprised me a little. The colors are very bright and full. The reason for my initial skepticism and concern, is that most films made in the 1980s have transfers with soft colors, but this one is very solid. The use of color in this film is frequent, and it was important to capture all of them well. Criterion did a great job getting this film on DVD. Unfortunately, it's not an anamorphic transfer, but the picture hardly suffers because of it. For those of you holding onto the laserdisc, this is from the same master that was made for that, with all the same extras -- replace away.

The audio is fine in Dolby Digital 2.0. This film did not really warrant a re-mastering of 5.1, especially given that this is "punk rock." I thought that the 2.0 worked well throughout. The music performance scenes may have encompassed a richer, more "live" feel in 5.1, but the 2.0 is clean and well balanced. The music in this film is great. Music on the soundtrack is by Joe Strummer, Pray for Rain, and the Pogues. There is also other great music heard throughout the film, from none other than the Sex Pistols. A cool film fact, is that Gary Oldman is the actual vocalist in a scene or two as well. Is there anything that guy can't do?

This is one packed Criterion Collection disc. The commentary goes on to reveal a lot of interesting facts from those involved in creating Sid & Nancy, and others that have researched, written and lived the punk rock culture. The commentary seems to be merely a bunch of interviews spliced together to add up to an audio track, but the commentary is very interesting and well worth listening to. There is also a generous helping of research materials showing Sid and Nancy (the real ones) in all their glory. There are outtakes from the documentary D.O.A., a BBC interview (pre-Sid) that shows that the Pistol's piss-off attitude isn't fake, and an audio telephone interview with Sid that shows he's also human (as well as being a whirlwind of spite). It's really a great view of the punk rock culture as it existed. There's also a nice liner note insert in the DVD case, that has a really well written commentary by Jon Savage on the era and the movie. Jon says it best when he tells of the film having two halves -- one in Britain and one in America. He goes on to talk a bit on the details and dynamics placed into this picture, by the directing and characterization. It's worth a few reads, in my book.

This is a must-view for any old school punk rock fan, and a great addition to the Criterion Collection on DVD. It may not be for the faint at heart, or the trendy punk rocker (who may not know which bands Joey Ramone, Jello Biafra or Iggy Pop have been in). Like most in the Criterion Collection, it's a little high in the price range, but I'd save for it. I recommend that you give it a spin. You'll see great storytelling, and hopefully get a sense of the raw talent of someone who (perhaps unknowingly) made very interesting social comments with his life.

Frank Ortiz
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Sid & Nancy (MGM)

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