Here is Alex Cox’s Beckettian masterpiece about those two prisoners of futility, Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen, rereleased in cinemas after 30 years: a welcome corrective to bland punk nostalgia. His film is tremendously acted by Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb with exactly the right absence of sympathy, although Cox arguably loses his nerve on this score in the film’s dying moments. It is terrifically shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has supervised the restored print. In the 1980s, the London and New York locations hadn’t really changed since the 70s, or even the 50s.
Poor, pathetic, self-harming Sid has been left high and dry after the Sex Pistols split, as bewildered as a child, living out his codependent nightmare with Nancy. In brutally extended scenes, Cox persuasively depicts their miserable lives in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, catatonic with boredom, yearning for heroin and the drug of rock celebrity which he had been very briefly fed.
There is a great cameo here from Kathy Burke and, almost unbelievably, Courtney Love. Seven years ago, the film-maker Alan G Parker released a documentary entitled Who Killed Nancy? that suggests the couple’s dealer might have murdered her, stolen their cash and pinned the blame on torpid Sid. Maybe so. Both films show that punk camouflaged a lot of undiagnosed dysfunction. John Peel once confessed that when he first saw someone with a safety pin through his nose, it made him think of the young men doing National Service with him 20 years earlier who had to be restrained from mutilating themselves. Gary Oldman’s Sid, screaming with fear in prison, brought to mind Peel’s memory. It’s fascinating to hear the Sex Pistols’ No Feelings again. This film makes me think it’s their most powerful track.
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