Musical Express 1st February 1986)
Cox, the director of last years cult film Repo Man argues about punk, inglorious
death and the tangled flowers of romance. In an exclusive interview with Stuart
Cosgrove he discusses his latest project, a film on Sid and Nancys love-affair.
NOSTALGIA is the last desperate refuge of the new-wave scoundrel and 1986 is scoundrel
whose first feature film Repo Man was one of last years unofficial screen
triumphs, sits humorously fielding a rant against punk. All this tenth anniversary
crapola is just an excuse to wallow in insignificance, the NME looking backwards
in search of its own finest moment. A complete negation of now and a fortuitous
chance to glance over the shoulder of musical history to find a time when all
was hip, aggressive and political.
what about Sid And Nancy: Love Kills, Alex Coxs forthcoming film on the
life and times of Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen? Has a dead junkie been elevated
by heroinism into some special mythological category as if he really mattered?
Nostalgia is natures way of saying youre past it. Or is it?
Cox disagrees. The film is very nostalgic simply because punks were a good
thing. In 1976 I was at film school in Bristol and I remember walking down the
street and seeing this guy with the date on the back of his jacket. I thought
it was one of the coolest and cleverest things I could ever conceive of. Okay,
maybe my brain wasnt working at its best, but I felt it was immense, really
significant. To have 1976 written on your back was more imaginative than anything
young people had done. It was tremendously optimistic because the Pistols and
early Clash were this very positive force.
voice shifts into a self-mocking gear. Like, hey man, social change through
music. But it didnt happen. It was coopted. Sid died a junkie and all
the optimism was dissipated. But in 1976 they were real feelings.
aint what it used to be thats for sure. Revisiting Brideshead, celebrating
the Queens silver jubilee or riding the chariots of yesterdays aristocratic
fire are simply ways of opting out of todays reality to find comfort in
a partial image of the perfect past. So what makes punk so special? Why is any
retro life-style, whether 6Os soul or ska revivalism, worth taking seriously?
should I give a Friar Tuck for Absolute Beginners or re-cycled celluloid images
of two dead punks? Dont they dig up the past in order to cement the commercial
cracks of todays unimaginative moment? Tenth anniversary memories are this
years tired joke. Or are they?
Alex Cox, the pressure is on. Sid And Nancy: Love Kills has to be this years
most authentic film; get one grunt wrong and the collective weight of the Criterion
Brasserie and historical inaccuracy will fall on his shoulders.
have attempted to be quite accurate about the way things look to the extent of
scampering around sticking period number plates on parked cars and trying to avoid
mini-metros. But if youre shooting outside Harrods in the rush hour, historically
inaccurate cars are bound to appear, a stray British Telecom van is bound to spoil
things. In that sense it could never be an authentic period creation, there are
many mistakes, and I hope people come along to play spot the anachronism.
the film is faithful to the spirit of punk. It starts off very optimistic and
funny with tons of jokes. It makes a very exotic world out of what was effectively
a very grimy and mundane one. It deals with the spirit of punk before the superficial
gloss of Thatcherism and shows a whole group of young people cutting through all
that and going out of their way to be outrageous and obnoxious. It shows them
trying to establish an alternative community which I suppose is something
that will be said ad nauseam as people talk about the tenth anniversary of punk.
all very well, but punk nostalgia is notoriously disinterested in British Telecom
vans; it wants to hear about some vile little creep throwing up in a polite and
public place. Will Alexs film make sure all the punk motifs are catered
done our best to include gross eating habits and as many spitting and farting
sequences as the story could manage. In places it gets really grotesque so I dont
think people will be disappointed in those respects.
AND NANCY- Love Kills is one of this years most ambitious films, a biopic
based on real individuals whose death is closely associated with the symbolic
death of a youth culture and a musical style.
it opens in the summer, its audiences in both Britain and America will turn up
with an attitude thats more critical than usual, ready to pounce on mistakes
yet not completely sure what it thinks of the central characters - Sid, played
by the British actor Gary Oldman, and his tragic blonde girlfriend, Nancy Spungen,
played by the New Yorker Chloe Webb.
danger is obvious. Two punk junkies fall in love and when their pact goes wrong
he stabs her to death in their room at the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. He is charged
with first degree murder and a few months later dies of a heroin overdose from
drugs supplied by his own mother. Or so the tabloids said. His name. John Simon
Ritchie, transformed by punk into Sid Vicious, confirms the ordinariness that
lay at the heart of their romance. But can the film deal with the story and protect
itself from the accusation that every screen image will glorify the characters
and their actions?
think the film does romanticise Sid and Nancy. I set out to make a romantic film
and given that they are the central characters, inevitably it romanticises them.
But I dont think it glorifies them, and thats an important distinction.
There was nothing glorious about them. Nancys big fantasy was that they
would go out in this big blaze of glory - Im gonna die before Im
2l, so there - but they didnt go out gloriously. In fact they went
out ignominiously, in a stupid way. They were junkies and that was stupid because
they just sat around in rooms all day being unproductive. If you actually look
at the real Sid and Nancy, say in the long sequence in Lech Kowalskis film
D.O.A., its depressing, they were just boring. Sid was pathetic. Weve
taken the liberty of making them more interesting than they were in real life:
thats what every biopic does. But I hope we havent romanticised the
crap paraphernalia that surrounded them.
whether cast in the form of wild westerns, hammering horrors or youth films refusing
to give in to punk nostalgia, have the ideological habit of inviting us to identify
with its central characters. Has Cox planned to go against the grain or should
we prepare to identify with Sid?
and Nancy come over very understandable, not always identifiable, but you do end
up understanding them, you maybe even sympathise. I think a lot of people feel
sentimental about him, but Nancy has always had a bit of a bum rap. People think
she was the evil bitch who killed Sid, as if he was some kind of innocent baby.
two-thirds of the way through the film they go to have Sunday dinner at Nancys
grandparents in New Jersey. I hope that by that time the audience will be viewing
the grandparents through the eyes of Sid and Nancy, and thinking theyre
normal and that New Jersey and its suburbanites are the real weirdos.
What was the other one called? Rotten? What was his involvement in the project,
apart from the gossiping suggestion that he hated the idea and wanted nothing
to do with it?
heard hed got a hold of the script and read it. When I was in New York casting
I heard through the grapevine that he was staying at the Mayflower Hotel. So I
called up and left this really insulting message What are you, a wanker
thats scared to meet me. something to provoke a reaction. It
did the trick, he returned my call at 5.00am while I was sleeping. He gave me
an earful of abuse, he told me the whole thing was disgusting and I should be
ashamed of myself.
arranged to meet up and got drunk on vodka-and-grapefruit cocktails and I found
him charming and sentimental beneath an exterior of considerable cynicism. He
still feels very fond of Sid and not so fond of Nancy. He felt the script was
generally accurate but that his part was wrong, it used too many big words. He
said I dont need to use big words to get my point across. So
we went through the script and cut out the big words. Id still like him
to get involved in the film, probably through music. We have songs by Dee Dee
Ramone, Joe Strummer, Iggy Pop and The Pogues. All the songs are called Love
Kills and Id like Lydon to write a song called Love Pils.
Cox has a healthy
fascination with punk; hes able to separate the hopefulness from the hype,
and his spiked hair, distressed jeans and sawn-off tartan shirts are not the normal
fabric of film directors. His careful manipulation of the press, refusing to grant
interviews and clouding certain sequences in mystery, has shades of McLaren. Get
set for the great celluloid swindle.
had to keep the press away for the sake of the actors. It wasnt intended
to be Machiavellian but in some respects it turned out to be beneficial to ban
the press, firstly because there was less distraction and secondly because it
built up interest in the film. I suppose its a bit like McLaren sending
the Pistols to lousy dives in Texas then saying The press cant come,
dont tell them where the gig is! It created a tremendous wave of excitement.
for us it was more to do with the fact that its a low budget movie. We rarely
spent more than a day in any location, it was like making a film on the run and
the press get in the way."
AND NANCY: Love Kills, a film Cox describes as a biopic, a romantic love
story which has been embroidered to make it more interesting, will be judged
to some extent by its music. As his follow-up to Repo Man it will also be judged
by the quality of its cinematic images. And in turning the X-generation into images
there is undoubtedly the danger that Cox will not only glorify but actually gentrify
punk. Like those New York galleries of eight years ago, will his film strip away
the rough edges, beautify the subject and turn it into an art object?
reserves judgement. The film cannot help but provide these images of enormous
beauty, its a very good looking film even if the subject matter is sometimes
rough. Its not what I expected but it takes it out of the grim reality of
the dour London of 1977 and into this larger frame. It does have a romantic quality
which is good because its supposed to be a romance but its not pretty
in a Ridley Scott way, not like a chocolate-box.
those images do appear, on the screen, in magazines, on posters, and in the popular
imagination, might they not begin to re-interpret and re-write the history of
punk by turning Sid and Nancy into the lovers that summarized a scene and its
music? Will the film tangle the flowers of romance? Will Alex Cox short-circuit
dont think Nancy ever was a punk, Sid definitely was, but he was likeable
in a dopey kind of way. Had he survived he would have become the Liberace or Wayne
Newton of punk, doing cover versions of Delilah or Twenty Four
Hours From Tulsa. But how could that be? Im sometimes not even sure
if Sid and Nancy do fit into the whole punk thing. The real significance was this
all-consuming love affair. The cynics might say it was just a love affair with
drugs, but I think it was more than that. The rare instance when two people become
inseparable, thats what was significant about their lives.
and compiled by Phil Singleton.
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