Among the unanswered questions in the universe, “Who killed Sid Vicious’ girlfriend Nancy Spungen?” probably ranks quite low — unless one is as single-mindedly consumed as Alan G. Parker, author of three books and now director of two films about Vicious, the short-lived bassist for the shorter-lived but highly influential Sex Pistols. “Who Killed Nancy?” opens July 30 at Gotham’s Cinema Village, but despite the presence of Glen Matlock, Steve Dior and a handful of other punk rockers, plus a slew of oblique eyewitness who lurked around before and after the fact, the docu soon bogs down in tiresome minutiae.
When police found Vicious passed out in his Chelsea Hotel room, with Spungen stabbed to death in the adjoining bathroom, the conclusion seemed self-evident. Certainly few in Parker’s film find murder between two full-blown junkies an unlikely prospect, and Vicious had a reputation for cultivating, well, viciousness (one interviewee counts his failure to stop Vicious from hanging a cat as his life’s biggest regret).
Vicious died of an overdose before a trial could test the validity of the evidence, and the case was closed; Parker exhaustively explores the various inconsistencies and contradictions that led some to believe Vicious innocent. The helmer points the finger of guilt elsewhere, as a gaggle of talking heads — friends, lovers, colleagues and hangers-on (including Parker himself, who frequently appears with the description “biographer”) — weigh in on the doomed couple.
Given Alex Cox’s wonderfully sensationalistic account of Spungen’s murder, and Vicious’ subsequent overdose, in his fiction feature “Sid and Nancy” (as well as the massive Sex Pistols treasure trove unveiled in Julien Temple’s docu “The Filth and the Fury”), a film that merely offers mild speculation about events that transpired 30 years ago — with a serious dearth of footage of Spungen, Vicious or his music — comes off as anticlimactic, if not downright perverse. Pic endlessly rejiggers the same few photos, homemovies and newsreels, with music done by cover bands.
Unlike Vikram Jayanti’s excellent “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector,” which interweaves biography with full-blown samples of Spector’s musical genius through a deconstructed account of his scandalous murder trial, “Who Killed Nancy?” remarkably never ventures to relate Vicious’ behavior to his punk persona.
Tech credits are threadbare.