Sad Vacation: The Last Days of Sid and Nancy

Color and context from those who were there

Eight years after the 1978 death of Nancy Spungen, director Alex Cox turned Spungen’s dysfunctional, death-courting relationship to then-former Sex Pistol Sid Vicious into the well-regarded film Sid and Nancy. The story of psychological damage, drug use, domestic violence and death made for compelling cinema, but the opacity of its central drama – the death of Nancy Spungen – also proved to be catnip for unsolved murder buffs and conspiracy theorists. Magnifying the unproven allegation against Vicious was his overdose death while awaiting trial, and the subsequent closing of the police investigation. Did Sid kill Nancy? Or might it have been one of the couple’s drug dealers or even a suicide pact?

The film does consider “who did it?,” but the unresolved theorizing isn’t the core value. What sets this documentary apart are the retrospective descriptions of the sordid milieu in which Sid and Nancy lived. The documentary is told in interviews with more than two-dozen people who were on the scene, living in the Chelsea Hotel, touring and playing with Vicious and socializing with the couple, and it’s those recollections that are the draw. The conversations are interwoven with archival film, television and photographs to tell Sid and Nancy’s story as it led to the fateful morning of October 12, 1978, and the subsequent fallout for Vicious.

As in most portraits of the couple, Spungen doesn’t fair well. Although a few interviewees identify themselves as her friend, the adjectives most regularly applied are angry, depressed, controlling, suicidal and unlikeable. Vicious is depicted initially as a puppy-dog man-child image, but separated from drugs by incarceration, a more canny Vicious emerges from the heroin fog. How much of his earlier doe-like innocence was feigned become an interesting question in the shadow of his post-incarceration wrist slashing, re-jailing on a battery charge, and his OD on smack that his mother bought. Just when you think the story couldn’t get more tawdry, it manages to take it down a few more notches.

There is a large body of media covering Sid and Nancy. In addition to Cox’s film (which reportedly drew from Deborah Spungen’s book about her daughter, And I Don’t Want to Live This Life), there are Alan Parker’s book No One is Innocent and documentary Who Killed Nancy? There’s infamous footage of Vicious nodding off in D.O.A. and retrospective articles, punk rock histories, exhibitions and autobiographies. But even with all that, there are no definitive answers. Few who knew Vicious believe he killed Spungen, and her shallow wound suggests negligence over murder. But no one knows. What Danny Garcia’s film offers is first-hand color and context, and a feel for the people and times. But not certainty. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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