Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sid and Nancy (Alex Cox, 1986)

It's a movie about punk rock. And it's also a movie about drug abuse. But to me, Alex Cox's Sid and Nancy will always be, first and foremost, a movie about love. Yep, as sappy as it might sound, I consider this here motion picture to be one of the most romantic, life affirming films ever made. Sure, it doesn't end well. But, hey, for the short time they were together, their love for one another was truly inspirational. There's a scene midway into the film never fails to tug at my heart strings (and, yes, I've seen this film at least a dozen times). It's the one where Sid Vicious, the sort of bass player for the seminal British punk band The Sex Pistols telephones his American girlfriend Nancy Spungen while on tour in the U.S.A. Even though their conversation ends like all their conversations do, in a slurred cacophony of  coarse put-downs and drug-fueled non-sequiturs, nothing makes me happier than seeing Nancy's reaction to when Sid tells her that he not only misses her but loves her as well. Assuming that Sid, "the punk rock superstar," would forget about her once he got a taste of fame and fortune in America, Nancy's eyes light up when she learns that Sid hasn't forgotten about his shrieking violet.

Furthermore, the fact that everyone around Sid thinks Nancy is an annoying hosebeast does nothing but intensify my Nancy-based rooting interest. Maybe I'm not hooked up right, but I'm still waiting for my Nancy Spungen to come along and sweep me off my feet, get me hooked on heroin and book me gigs at Max's Kansas City. I know, that's a weird thing to say, but some people need a Nancy Spungen in their life.

It's true, I have a soft spot for brash, forthright women who look amazing in fishnet pantyhose and/or stockings. But I think Nancy Spungen is more than just a woman, she represents an idea. For those of us who have no clue when it comes to maintaining healthy human relationships, the Nancy Spungen's of this world cut through all the noise by doing the majority of the heavy lifting for you.

In the documentary, Who Killed Nancy?, it's implied that Sid Vicious would have never approached a woman like Nancy Spungen. Well, in this fictionalized version of their story, Nancy, an American living in London, England (she's basically a starfucker), does make the first move (she forces her way into bed with him, and by "bed" I mean the floor of a flophouse). But Sid is no wallflower.

The question who hit on who first doesn't really matter in the end, as Sid is the one who is currently bathing one of Nancy's feet with inside of his mouth. And get this, the foot he's slobbering all over was seconds earlier ensnared in black fishnet pantyhose. In order to get at her toes in a more efficient manner, Sid proceeds to extract the foot he wants to devour from its nylon prison with a serious of punk-friendly tearing motions.

What I'm getting at is, Nancy is clearly the one wearing the fishnet pantyhose in this relationship.

In a strange twist, when we first meet Nancy Spungen (Chloe Webb), she's wearing blue jeans(!). Her dominatrix friend, Linda (Anne Lambton), is actually the first to be seen wearing fishnets in the movie. No, it's true.

When Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) and his pal Johnny (Andrew Schofield) come over to see Linda–you know, to cover her walls with graffiti and eat baked beans, the former gets his first glimpse of Nancy Spungen. However, since Nancy is not wearing fishnets or any leather whatsoever, Sid doesn't give much thought to her. The feeling seems to be mutual, as Nancy doesn't even seem to know which wanker is which (she calls Sid "Johnny").

This all changes when Nancy sees Sid's band, The Sex Pistols, in concert for the very first time. Literally getting in-between Sid and Johnny while they were sleeping, Nancy lies next Sid, basically kicking Johnny to the curb (who leaves while muttering something about sex being ugly and boring).

The next day, Sid watches as some git throws a pint in Nancy's face at a pub. Outside the pub, Sid finds a distraught Nancy smashing her fists against a wall. Just after Nancy mumbles the immortal words, "Never trust a junkie," Sid asks her if she can score him any drugs. Giving her a wad of cash, Sid watches as Nancy hops on a bus. Call me a cynic, but I don't think Sid's going to see that bird again.

Oh, and it should be noted Nancy Spungen is now dressed like Nancy Spungen. Meaning, her sexy body is sheathed in fishnets and leather.

Even though London is a large city, Sid, along with his friend, Wally Hairstyle (Graham Fletcher-Cook), who is wearing a red leather jacket, stumble upon Nancy. Well, they stumble upon a couple of bags containing her belongings first. At any rate, as Wally helps put Nancy's clothes back in her bags (they have spilled all over the street), Sid yells at Nancy, "What about my drugs?!?"

I don't know what was going on in England at the time, but judging by the behaviour of Sid and Johnny in the opening scene (they're seen kicking in the windshield of a Rolls-Royce), there was definitely something in the air that was making them act this way. Another example of this unruly behaviour occurs when Sid and Nancy are walking to Wally's gaff to shoot up, when we see a bunch of kids coming from school. Smashing car hoods with their field hockey sticks as they went, these kids are clearly deranged. Or maybe they were just a reflection of society?

If you look closely, you'll notice a Tori billboard that reads "Labour Isn't Working." You have to admit, that's almost interesting. And I hate say it, but "Labour Isn't Working" is one of the best political slogans of all-time.

Enough about British politics. I was going to inquire as to why Johnny and the other members of The Sex Pistols not named Sid Vicious were wearing angora sweaters during a studio session. But then I remembered seeing a picture of Vivianne Westwood in an angora sweater from the period and it made perfect sense; she designed the bands clothes.

It's during the angora sweater replete studio session that we first hear the full-force of Nancy's strident American accent and it's also the one where Sid kisses Nancy's right foot.

The scene where The Sex Pistols play a concert on a boat on the Thames highlights where Sid's priorities are. Not even bothering to appear on stage, Sid spends most of the time either with Nancy or asking Malcolm (David Hayman), the band's crafty manager, for drug money.

Since it's apparently illegal to hold concerts on boats in the middle of the Thames, the police put a stop to the show. As the boat comes ashore, the police are waiting. The band, the band's management, and dozens of punks scatter, as the police show up wielding billy clubs.

Walking arm in arm in a calm manner, Sid and Nancy leave the area unmolested. The scene is hauntingly beautiful, as chaos reigns all around the oblivious couple... and the music of Pray For Rain plays on the soundtrack.

My favourite line occurs soon afterward when Nancy says, "I'll never look like Barbie. Barbie doesn't have bruises."

The biggest test for Sid and Nancy's relationship is when Nancy is told she can't travel with The Sex Pistols for their doomed American tour.

However, it's during the tour, as you all know, that Sid calls Nancy and declares his love for her. The fact Nancy is dressed in black opera gloves, fishnet stockings and thigh-high boots when she receives this call makes the scene all the more sweeter.

After a brief trip to Paris, the action moves to New York City, where Sid and Nancy set up shop at the Chelsea Hotel. In one the film's funniest bits, Sid is unaware that he's in New York City; despite the fact they have been there for a week. He confirms his location by looking out the window.

Even though the film looks great from start to finish, the New York chapter has a certain quality about it. Photographed by famed cinematographer Roger Deakins, the New York scenes have a grittiness about them that is strangely dream-like.

The film's most famous scene, the alleyway garbage rain kiss, captures this dream-like aura best. And like the "off the boat" scene, the alleyway garbage rain kiss features the amazing music of Pray For Rain.

While it's obvious to most people that Sid and Nancy have a drug problem. Some might need convincing (I know, who are these people? But still, please bear with me). Well, what better way to do so than have Xander Berkley play Sid and Nancy's drug dealer. I mean, you know you have hit rock bottom when Xander Berkeley shows up in your life. A "Methadone Caseworker" played by Sy Richardson tries to steer Sid and Nancy in the right direction, but it's way too late, these two are doomed.

In typical Gary Oldman fashion, I would some times forget that he was in this. In other words, there were moments when I thought Sid Vicious was playing himself. But as anyone who has seen the film or knows anything about punk rock history will tell you, that would be physically impossible.

Unafraid to appear skanky or uncouth, and definitely unafraid to come across as loud and obnoxious, Chloe Webb continues the tradition of American actresses giving fearless performances for British film directors. The others being, off the top of my head: Theresa Russell in Track 29 (Nicholas Roeg), Cathy Moriarty in White of the Eye (Donald Cammell) and Kathleen Turner in Crimes of Passion (Ken Russell). So, yeah, Sid and Nancy is pretty much the most romantic movie ever.

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