Reflecting on 30 years of Sid & Nancy with Alex Cox
The Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious and his girlfriend Nancy Spungen were the original calamitous celebrity couple, and in many people’s eyes, their ill-fated love affair represented the gloriously broken face of punk in the late 70s. Given the eight years that had passed since the Sex Pistols split in 1978, director and co-writer Alex Cox might have made a film that blindly eulogised the pair but the end result, Sid & Nancy, was a harrowing representation of their descent into ruinous addiction.
John Lydon infamously derided the film for its supposed historical inaccuracy (his 1994 autobiography, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, called it “the lowest form of life”), but by focusing on the fictionalised nature of the narrative from the start, viewers would miss the film’s gripping, difficult, and visceral examination of a destructive relationship.
Cox’s punk credentials are solid. His previous feature film, Repo Man, has earned ironclad cult status partly due to its championing of California punk acts including Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies and The Plugz and he’s spent the majority of his career making films with the same DIY attitude that defined those scenes, moving from a spaghetti western-inspired period shooting exclusively in Mexico (after being effectively blacklisted by working during a Writers Guild of America strike) through to low-budget micro-features of the last decade (including Repo Chick and Searchers 2.0).
30 years on, Sid & Nancy has been beautifully restored for a run of screening and re-release on DVD and Blu-Ray. Cox reflects on the cult success in our Q+A.
Looking back on Sid and Nancy now, how do you feel about the film?
No strong feelings. Some very good work by the actors, the cinematographers, the art department, and my co-author Abbe Wool – but it’s too long and the end feels bogus. We should have shown Sid dying in a pool of vomit. Instead we opted for a touchy-feely way out.
What made you want to retell the couple’s story?
A Hollywood studio was planning to make a Sid and Nancy film starring Madonna and Rupert Everett. In the spirit of punk, Abbe and I felt this had to be stopped, or at least pre-empted.
How did you get Iggy Pop involved in the film?
Iggy I knew because he’d written the main theme for Repo Man and, coincidentally or otherwise, his guitarist on that song was the Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones.
Many of your works have been influenced by the punk scene. What do you think of 2016 punk? Do you think the movement still has cultural significance?
I am not sure. I like some bands in Tucson, Arizona, am thrilled by the works of Danbert Nobacon, Sex Patels, Kid Carpet, and Boff Whaley’s Commoner’s Choir, and, of course, the ongoing masterworks of Iggy. My impression is that punk today is more a fashion thing than the revolutionary movement it started out being.
Do you think a film like Sid and Nancy would get past censors in 2016?
What is there in Sid & Nancy to offend the censors? Modern entertainment films are increasingly debased and violent and I don’t imagine there’d be any objection to our script with its romanticised finale. There is a scene where Sy Richardson, playing the methodone clinic worker, tells Sid & Nancy what it’s all about, but no one remembers that. Since it refers to CIA drug smuggling I imagine that scene might not make it past the studios’ internal censors.
"A Hollywood studio was planning to make a Sid & Nancy film starring Madonna and Rupert Everett... I felt this had to be stopped"
Is it odd to imagine audiences watching Sid and Nancy in cinemas in the present day?
No. It’s a film – people are still watching My Darling Clementine and Citizen Kane, which are considerably older (and better) pictures.
Why do you think the film has attained such a cult status?
Perhaps because it reminds elderly viewers of a time back in the 70s when they had a punk record collection, took drugs, and had unprotected sex? By the way, I saw my first punk in Clifton! He was wearing a leather jacket which said 1976, and the year was 1976. This seemed significant. Perhaps he was one of the Cortinas…
Sid & Nancy is now showing at Bristol’s Watershed. See times here