Sid Vicious’s biggest musical moment … this is Sid’s infamous punk cover of the Frank Sinatra warhorse, with new filthy lyrics. The video, originally at the end of Julien Temple’s Sex Pistols documentary “The Great Rock n Roll Swindle,” is equally as infamous, with a graphically violent climax that must be seen to be believed. Not safe for work.
Perhaps the best use of this song was over the end credits of Martin Scorsese’s gangster classic “Goodfellas,” a perfect choice that sums up the entire picture.
And … as a bonus … here’s the version of the scene from the 1986 Alex Cox-directed biopic “Sid and Nancy” with Gary Oldman dynamically taking the mic as Sid. While this is not Oldman’s first big performance, it was the one that made him famous.
I saw “Sid and Nancy” in 1986, during the week between Christmas and New Years Day when school is not in session and I was visiting my Dad in Washington D.C. I saw it at the (now defunct) Key Theater, a Georgetown multiplex that showed nothing but art films. I remember this was the first time I had been in Georgetown by myself and was particularly excited because I also managed to find a (then-rare) CD copy of the Dead Kennedy’s “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables” at Olsson’s Books and Music (sadly out of business).
Anyway, I was really excited to see this not only because this was a major film about punk history, but was also because it was directed by Alex Cox, who directed one of my all-time favorite films, “Repo Man.” The theater was thoughtful enough to include a very killer punk mix of music before the film started. My verdict of “Sid and Nancy” at the time? I thought it was good, even though I knew a lot of it was bullshit. This film gets a lot of stuff wrong, but it was still damn exciting to watch. This was the first time I had seen Gary Oldman (who plays Sid Vicious) and thought he did a magnificent job. The start of a brilliant career… Chloe Webb as Nancy Spungen was also damn good. I’m sorry to see that after an appearance in the Arnold Schwarzenegger / Danny DeVito film “Twins” and a role on the TV show “China Beach” she didn’t do much after that aside from the occasional TV appearance and supporting role. She’s always been memorable in everything she’s been in.
My verdict now? I still think it’s quite remarkable. Yes, it includes a bit too much of Cox quirkiness and while I realize it has even more wrong about the facts than I knew at the time, it still packs quite a wallop. At times, funny and extremely depressing, “Sid and Nancy” is a great rock and roll film, one of the best films ever made about a mutually destructive relationship, and a genuinely thrilling attempt to document the highs and lows of the punk scene in Great Britain and New York City during the late 1970s.
“The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle” is an extremely controversial documentary about the Sex Pistols that features manager Malcolm McLaren as the lead character instead of the band. McLaren rewrites the Pistols’ history as being an elaborate hoax/scam/con job on the record industry and his running away with millions of dollars of corporate cash.
On one level, this is a very funny and engaging film. And the Sex Pistols footage is totally amazing to watch. However, as we’ve learned in subsequent years from numerous books and interviews with the surviving band members (and in Temple’s updated documentary from 2000 “The Filth and the Fury”), McLaren was not the master Machiavelli and lovable rogue he painted himself to be. Instead, McLaren was a largely incompetent, greedy, and (arguably) evil man who callously disregarded and exploited the pain and misery of those around him to get as much money as he possibly could that should have been rightfully been given to others. I still find the film entertaining, even with a huge asterix in my mind that what I’m watching is complete bollocks, to coin a phrase.
The Japanese subtitles on this trailer are appropriate, because the only way you could watch “The Great Rock n’ Roll Swindle” in America until around 1992 or so was on imported Japanese videocassettes. That’s how I first saw this film (around 1986) and was in constant rotation in my VCR for the next six years. It also features a lot of footage that never made the final film.
What’s really fascinating is that the Sex Pistols film was originally supposed to be a film called “Who Killed Bambi?” directed by American sexploitation master Russ Meyer and scripted by Roger Ebert. Ebert posted the entire script he wrote on his blog as well as his version of how his and Meyer’s involvement with the Pistols came about. A totally fascinating read.
I’ll quote Greil Marcus on this one: “(Lead singer Ian) Hunter must have smiled when he saw the punks of the late seventies reach the audience he was sure had to be out there somewhere – smiled, and wondered if anyone remembered ‘I Wish I Was Your Mother,’ a shatteringly beautiful horror story that no punk has ever touched on record, though Sid Vicious may well have lived most of it out.”