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Friday, April 10, 2009
'Who Killed Nancy? The True Story . . .'/'Stranded: I've Come from a Plane that Crashed on the Mountains'
Punk rock, murder and a spot of cannibalism
When Nancy Spungen, groupie girlfriend of Sex Pistols bassist and punk icon Sid Vicious, was found dead in the couple's room at New York City's Chelsea Hotel on Oct. 12, 1978, few were surprised. Vicious was known for his explosive outbursts, Spungen for her grating personality, and both for their serious drug habits and oft-stated desire not to live past age 21.
The idea that Vicious, either in a heated argument or drug-fueled accident, put his hunting knife into Spungen's side and nodded off as she slowly bled to death, seemed perfectly plausible, to both the police and fans. Her murder became viewed as something of a death-trip Romeo and Juliette myth (Vicious himself would complete the pact, ODing mere months later) and was immortalized in Alex Cox's 1986 film, "Sid and Nancy."
Yet the death of an icon — whether it's JFK, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon or Tupac Shakur — rarely turns out to be as uncomplicated as we thought. Or, more accurately, devotees find more solace in the notion of evil conspiracy than the capricious hand of fate.
Along comes director Alan G. Parker, a man who's made a career dissecting the Sid Vicious myth, with his documentary film "Who Killed Nancy? The True Story . . ." In it, Parker revisits the crime in exhausting detail and suggests — with some evidence — that Sid didn't do it. Maybe.
Parker has done a very good job at tracking down people who knew Sid and Nancy, like Steve "Roadent" Connolly, the Pistols' roadie; Steve Dior, who played in Sid's post-Pistols band; Viv Albertine of The Slits; and Neon Leon, a guitarist who also lived in the Chelsea. Notable by their absence are all The Sex Pistols (except for Glen Matlock, the bassist Sid replaced) and their manager Malcolm McClaren, which may say something about the project. Parker mixes the interviews with "Rock 'n' Roll Swindle"-esque punk animation, period footage and blurry recreations of that fateful night in the Chelsea to keep the film moving along. (The soundtrack, curiously, is mostly songs by The Buzzcocks.)
"Who Killed Nancy?" might make the case that Sid possibly didn't kill Nancy, but it fails to make the case as to why we should care. Here was a man who took The Stooges' "Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell" not as an artistic expression of nihilism, but as a blueprint for living. Story after story of Sid nearly ODing, of Sid being too stoned to perform, of Sid and Nancy pissing off their friends so severely that one of them attacked the couple with an ax, of Sid putting a noose around a cat and watching it die (the interviewee is still visibly shaken some 30 years later), of Sid asking the cameramen of the punk documentary "D.O.A." whether they wanted to film him having sex with Nancy for 100 quid. . . . This all adds up to a life that, murder or no murder, was speeding head on toward no future. In death, Sid Vicious became both the ultimate crystallization of punk's ethos (its in-your-face confrontation and negativity), but also its worst parody — a kind of brain-dead nihilism taken to a dead-end extreme.
Another kind of "death-trip" is examined in "Stranded: I've Come from a Plane that Crashed on the Mountains." This documentary looks at a sensationalized 1972 incident, when a plane carrying a Uruguayan rugby team crashed into a mountain, and the survivors resorted to cannibalism to survive their 72-day ordeal in harsh, frigid conditions.
If ever a movie was certain not to become in-flight entertainment, "Stranded" is one. Gonzalo Arijon re-creates the flight and the crash with terrifying simplicity; in fact, his use of period film stock left me wondering whether someone on board the plane had brought a Super-8 camera with them. The survivors describe the struggle to stay alive without food on a snow-covered mountaintop, and the despair that came when they learned the search was called off.
This story has already been told, in fictionalized form, by the 1993 film "Alive" (starring Ethan Hawke), but no fiction can compare with hearing the survivors recount this experience in their own words. Director Gonzalo Arijon, who knew several of the crash survivors from childhood, has the men recollect not only how they survived, but what it meant, how it changed their lives. The decision to eat one's friends (the dead ones, mind you) is one that's hard to grasp, but seeing the survivors as old men now, with children and grandchildren by their sides, makes it clear what their lives have meant for themselves and others.
The 18:45 screening of "Stranded: I've Come from a Plane that Crashed on the Mountains" at the Human Trust Cinema ( 5468-5551 or www.cqn-cinemas.com) in Shibuya, Tokyo, will have English subtitles.