Film Review: Sad Vacation: The Last Days of Sid and Nancy

A decent look into the tumultuous rock relationship that led to murder, but not particularly essential except to Sex Pistols completists.
Specialty Releases

On October 12, 1978, Sid Vicious’ 20-year-old girlfriend Nancy Spungen was found dead in room 100 at New York’s Chelsea Hotel, and the myth of the Sex Pistols bass player—who would die less than four months later himself—would become the stuff of rock legend.

Thirty years after Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy, starring Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb, filmmaker Danny Garcia (The Rise and Fall of The Clash) explores the last days of Vicious and Spungen in a new documentary that opens with a haunting dolly shot through the hallways of the Chelsea Hotel, overlaid by news reports of the famous murder.

Narrated by Huey Morgan, front man for the band Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Sad Vacation: The Last Days of Sid and Nancy touches briefly upon the history of how Sid joined the Sex Pistols after the departure of Glen Matlock and the early years of the group. Before meeting Sid, Nancy was a New York stripper and dominatrix who had a reputation for sleeping with musicians and buying them drugs, though when you see the archival photos of her, she’s actually quite beautiful and not at all what you might expect of a groupie or a junkie.

New York City was clearly a different and more dangerous place in the late ’70s, but the downtown punk scene, filled with art, drugs and its own form of violence, made for the perfect environment for Vicious to settle down with his American girlfriend after the Pistols broke up in early ’78.

As might be expected, the film deals with some of the many conspiracy theories surrounding the murder, with people who knew the pair talking about their individual personalities and their relationship, while trying to theorize why he might have killed her. (One of them even admits to telling Sid that the only way for him to get rid of Nancy was to kill her.) This means that we get interviews with some of the Chelsea Hotel’s inhabitants of the times and others, with the biggest takeaway from those interviews being that New York City in the ’70s has left a lot of drug burnouts.

Few will have much knowledge of anyone being interviewed unless you’re familiar with names like Steve "Roadent" Conolly, Kenny "Stinker" Gordon, Hellin Killer or Casino Steel. At least they got New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain to talk on the record, but that’s a very small concession for a movie that one presumes wants to be taken seriously by music fans. (Garcia’s musical selections for the film are solid, though it’s little surprise that Pistols’ front man John Lydon wanted nothing to do with this movie.)

On the other hand, fans of crime-procedural docs—which are very popular these days—might get more out of this documentary than Cox’s film, and who knows? They might even learn something new about the murder that was never properly solved. Some of the theories revolve around where their bodyguard Rockets Redglare, a downtown New York bouncer who would become a popular character actor in films by Steve Buscemi and Jim Jarmusch, was at the time of the murder. Unfortunately, he died in 2001 and also wasn’t available to be interviewed.

And yet, in a year with a number of superior films about the heyday of punk rock in New York, this seems like an odd direction of subject matter for Garcia to take; Sad Vacation will only be of interest to people who may still be obsessed with Vicious or the Pistols.

Click here for cast and crew information.