Sid & Nancy: Collector's Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - MGM Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (9th April 2012).
The Film

I was reminded of two things during my inaugural viewing of Alex Cox’s punk rock love tale, “Sid & Nancy” (1986): I hate The Sex Pistols, and Gary Oldman is a goddamn brilliant actor.

I’ll freely admit that I’ve never been into the punk rock scene, despite it crossing over on many occasions with the metal favorites of my youth. With a few exceptions – such as The Misfits and Ramones – there’s very little I can listen to enjoyably. And I’ve always felt that The Sex Pistols were a vastly overrated band whose tunes make my ears bleed and my head go numb. I understand their importance to punk as a whole – and with only one true studio album, it’s impressive to see how influential they still are – but they’ve never done anything for me. Yet I can’t deny that I found Alex Cox’s film about the band’s late bass player, Sid Vicious, and his late girlfriend, Nancy Spungen, to be utterly fascinating and wholly tragic. That’s likely due to the fact that the film doesn’t focus on the band that made him famous or the music they played; it’s a tragic tale of toxic love. Here were two people who, by all accounts, seemed to barely stand each other, yet they also could hardly go out of the room without the other following in tow. The old adage of “can’t live with them, can’t live without them” has never felt more true.

The film has been heavily criticized by members of The Sex Pistols, most notably singer Johnny Rotten, who said the film was the “Peter Pan fantasy version” of the truth, and the only redeeming quality was Gary Oldman’s performance. I don’t know much, if anything, about the band’s history, but I can wholeheartedly agree with him on Oldman’s performance. The actor lost a substantial amount of weight to play the role, subsisting on “steamed fish and lots of melon” in order to accurately portray the sickly, drug-addled bass player. I really think his acting is nothing short of brilliant, and if the subject matter weren’t so looked-down upon by the Hollywood elite he would have been a shoo-in for an Academy Award nomination. Oldman is one of those rare actors like Daniel Day Lewis who can become lost completely within a role, often times so do to such an extent that he’s unrecognizable. Many actors work their entire lives to do work half as impressive as Oldman was doing almost 30 years ago. It’s astounding that it took until 2012 for him to receive a nomination for his tremendous work. Oldman’s Sid looks like a gangly punk right from the start, but once he gets involved with Nancy – and, more importantly, her drugs – his visage resembles a corpse, with his gaunt appearance and sickly pallor. Looking at vintage photos of Vicious, it’s even more amazing to see how Oldman is a dead ringer for the late bassist. Vicious’ mother was even kind enough to loan Gary the chain necklace he always wore for his performance. The film heavily implies that once he left The Sex Pistols, Vicious was a terrible singer on his own. Amusingly enough, many critics and fans have said that Oldman does a better vocal rendition of “My Way” than Sid did. A solid performance can elevate almost any film, and the fact that Oldman was able to completely transfix me to the screen for a film about a band I never liked is a true testament to his craft.

Chloe Webb is no slouch as Nancy Spungen, Sid’s doomed gal pal. She’s mildly attractive (at times), crude, rude, loud, crass, loving, and completely out of her mind. Yet, despite all of this Sid displays a clear love for her that feels genuine. Webb starts off looking like a hot mess and goes continually downhill from there. Her attachment to Sid is unwavering, which is more likely due to their mutual love of drugs than an actual love for each other, but they still manage to maintain their relationship through turbulent tours and long distances. The details of Nancy’s death remain as murky in the film as they were in real life. Sid Vicious claimed he had no recollection of how Nancy had been killed, with speculation ranging from Sid killing her in a drug induced stupor to a drug dealer knifing her for money while Sid was passed out in bed. The film posits the former, showing a drugged-up Sid accidentally stabbing Nancy without even realizing it, then waking to her dead body as the police arrive. Vicious was never charged with the crime, and the ability to do so expired along with him when he died of a heroin overdose the a few months later, though his mother has speculated that it may have been suicide since he and Nancy had a “death pact”.

I do take issue with the film’s ending. After being released from prison, Sid eats some pizza, dances with neighborhood kids in a lot, and then has a fantasy where Nancy, wearing a white gown, drives up in a taxi cab and the two ride off into the night. A title card then quickly appears stating that Sid died of a heroin overdose in Feb. 1979 before proclaiming “Sid & Nancy R.I.P.” and cutting to the credits. It felt disingenuous in keeping with the previously established tone of the film. The fantasy sequence implies that there’s a silver lining out there for hard drug users and possible murderers, feeling more like something out of “Natural Born Killer” (1994) than the film I’d just been watching. Cox would have made a stronger impact had he continued the story further and ended it with the facts: Vicious makes bail, celebrates and then dies of an overdose. That, to me, is a much more profound statement to their “junk love” than what we’re given. I’m not trying to take the stance that we need to see the real life implications of maintaining such a disastrous relationship, but the film needed to end on a more impactful note. I mean, you give the man his own movie and his death is given nothing more than a brief credit? I suppose Cox wanted to focus more on the love story, so once Nancy had died so does the film, but I think he could have taken things further.

Video

“Sid & Nancy” had been given at least 3 separate DVD releases over the years, but this Blu-ray from MGM is likely to be the best it’s ever looked. The 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image is superb spread out onto a 50GB disc, especially when you consider the film’s vintage. Alex Cox used well-known (well, now he is) cinematographer Roger Deakins to shoot this film. His work has always been exemplary with Ethan and Joel Coen, and it’s easy to see why Cox would have selected him here. The film is shot to perfectly capture the grimy, gritty, greasy punk scenes in both London and New York. The environments are palatable; it feels like you’re living in squalor throughout the film. There is a healthy grain structure present, but it only serves to add a more film-like appearance, never becoming a hindrance to the picture. What surprised me most was that, despite London’s often drab and dour conditions, the film is replete with warm primary colors that pop off the screen. There’s a scene early on when Johnny and Sid walk through a fruit market, and the display of colors will have your TV looking like it’s tuned to some travel channel bazaar. The woman’s apartment where Nancy stays is also impressive, with its red brick and white walls punctuated by a kaleidoscope of graffiti in various colors all over the walls.

The makeup work on both Oldman and Webb also impresses under the microscope of high definition. Though neither of them looks very hot to begin with, as the film progresses – along with their drug habits – their appearance grows worse with each frame. At times, Webb looks almost like a zombie with her stark makeup and sickly appearance. I loved the attention to minor details, like all of the visible bruises on Nancy’s legs when she’s watching TV in Sid’s apartment. Likewise, Oldman looks like he’s on death’s door by the film’s final act (and he should have, since he was). Sometimes practical makeup can look too obvious when it’s subjected to such scrutiny in hi-def, but I thought everything here held up well enough that two duo probably look better (worse?) than they ever have to audiences before.

Audio

The original mix for this film was Dolby Stereo, but for this Blu-ray release MGM created a newly-mixed English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit. The result is a solid track that is front-heavy, but there is some decent rear activity to keep things lively. The film’s diegetic music - concerts and cassette tapes - sound noticeably weaker than the non-diegetic soundtrack, which make better use of the entire sound field. Rears are used for some occasional background effects in the big cities, though I’m guessing those sounds were created solely for this 5.1 mix. Dialogue is unexpectedly easy to grasp despite the thick-as-a-brick accents some of the cast sports. Sid can often times sound like he’s hammered drunk, but when he really is, and his accent gets worse, you’ll realize his sober scenes are as intelligible as he’s going to sound. The track doesn’t sound very dated in the 26 years that have passed since it was recorded, so it’s no slouch next to the excellent video quality. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired.

Extras

Two words: wasted opportunity.

MGM just ported over the few (weak) supplements from their last DVD special edition (which appears to be OOP as of this writing) for the film. The Criterion Collection DVD, which is long since OOP, contained an audio commentary, vintage interviews with Vicious, a documentary, and loads more. This Blu-ray doesn’t even have a main menu. This is another one of MGM’s cheap-out discs (like the recent "Blue Velvet" (1986) release) that goes straight into the film, with only a generic pop-up menu available to users.

This release’s extras should – in the words of Sid himself - piss off. We can only hope Criterion is able to re-obtain the film and put out a proper Blu-ray release.

“For the Love of Punk” (480p) is a featurette that runs for 15 minutes and 46 seconds. A lot of contemporary journalists talk extensively about Alex Cox, The Sex Pistols, Sid & Nancy, punk music, the film… yet, curiously, no actual clips or photos of The Sex Pistols or Sid are shown, making this a rather boring piece. It’s like they made this only because the studio HAD to slap some stuff together for the last special edition DVD.

“Junk Love” (480p) is a featurette that runs for 15 minutes and 30 seconds. This plays like the second half to the first featurette, with all the same contemporaries now focusing their discussion specifically on Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. And, again, with any pictures or vintage video clips this winds up being repetitive and boring. They could have really done something special for this release by showing us old interview footage with Vicious, him performing, maybe any surviving footage of his disastrous solo gigs… but we get jack squat instead. Bummer.

The film’s theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 2 seconds.

Packaging

The single disc comes housed in a Blu-ray eco-case. The cover art is the same that was used for the first DVD release, which is simply a shot of Sid screaming while Nancy stands behind him. I suppose it’s fitting, but it could have been more explosive.

Overall

A fantastic music biopic can pull in viewers whether they like the person’s musical tendencies or not. In this case, I was completely enthralled with the film despite a total lack of interest in the music Sid Vicious made. Oldman reminds you why he’s one of the greatest actors we have working today. The story of Sid & Nancy isn’t tragic because I don’t think either of them really needed to be pitied, but it is a compelling tale of a love that just wouldn’t quit.

The Film: A- Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: C- Overall: B

 


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