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Sad Vacation (2016)

DVD Released: 1/13/2017

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/16/2016

When someone decides to make a documentary, they are faced with several questions. Once they choose their subject (or, let's face it, the subject chooses them), they must decide what angle they want to take, how objective or subjective they want to be, and how deep they want to delve into the subject matter. If the movie is about a new or obscure topic, the filmmaker will most likely opt to give a great deal of detail about the subject matter. If the focus is more well-known, there may be a desire to simply jump into the meat of the movie. Also, if there are questions to be answered, those driving the movie can decide to take a firm stand on their opinion. Or, a movie can be like Sad Vacation, a documentary which takes a somewhat well-known story and does nothing with it.

In 1978, Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen moved into the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. Vicious had been a member of Sex Pistols, who had recently imploded after an American tour. Spungen was a groupie who had become Vicious' girlfriend. Vicious was known for this rowdy behavior on-stage, and both had well-documented drug habits. Despite the fact that Vicious was taking methadone (a drug used by those trying to get off of opiates), Spungen would perform in strip clubs in order to raise money for their drug addiction. On October 12, 1978, Spungen was found dead in the hotel room, having bled to death from stab wounds. Vicious was accused of the crime, but various theories swirled around the event. Could Vicious have killed his girlfriend? And what events lead them to this lowly state?

Despite making a splash at the time, and gaining notoriety in the burgeoning punk scene, Sex Pistols didn't really achieve fame until much later when their influence on a new generation of rockers became apparent. The story of the explosive relationship between Vicious and Spungen was truly thrown into the spotlight with the 1986 film Sid and Nancy (which offered a breakout performance from Gary Oldman). That movie explored the last few months of Spungen's life and Vicious' involvement in her death. So, I wouldn't go so far as to say that the story of Vicious and Spungen is part of the zeitgeist, but it's certainly something of which some people are aware. Therefore, we would want a new documentary to deliver new data and answer some questions.

Somehow, Sad Vacation fails to do this. Which is really odd, as Writer/Director Danny Garcia, working with Co-Writer Brett Dunford, throws a lot of information at us. The bulk of the movie contains interviews with veterans from this era of the Chelsea Hotel (most of whom don't appear to have real names), some who knew Vicious from his time in Sex Pistols, and friends of Spungen. These speakers recount their memories of encountering and spending time with Sid and Nancy during those final months. While the sheer number of interviewees is impressive, there are some issues here. First of all, many of these speakers don't come across as the most reliable reporters, as some admit to also being high during this time. Secondly, we get some of the same information over and over again.

Outside of the interviews, Garcia presents limited narration from Huey Morgan, and some archive footage. The narration is sporadic and provides little insight into the goings-on. The makers of Sad Vacation clearly couldn't get the rights to very much footage from the period, as we only get one scene of Sex Pistols performing (more on that in a moment) and just a few random clips of Sid and Nancy together. The lack of footage results in us getting the same shots over and over again. Also, the movie doesn't contain any music from Sex Pistols, even in the concert footage. (This reminded me of the equally shoddy documentary Color Me Obsessed.)

Taking all of this into consideration, the result is a documentary which borders on useless. At the outset, Sad Vacation seems to assume that we are intimately knowledgeable of the Sid and Nancy story. It then goes back and attempts to give some backstory about them. But, it fails in this regard. We don't learn how Nancy went from an American teenager to an international groupie. There's not much information on how Vicious came to be in Sex Pistols. The movie doesn't seem interested in explaining how and why they ended up at the Chelsea. The movie seems to think that it's focusing on Nancy's death, but this gets all jumbled up. It presents us with possible suspects outside of Vicious, but draws no conclusions. As someone who had seen Sid and Nancy and wanted to learn more, I was excited to see Sad Vacation. I now feel like I know less about this tragic couple. Similar to the recently reviewed Author, we are presented with a documentary which drops the ball on drawing us into a story which has built-in appeal.

Sad Vacation is like the opposite of investigative journalism on DVD courtesy of MVD. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Again, this documentary is comprised of new interviews and archived footage. The interviews are sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source materials. The older footage shows grain and scratches, and various color faults. This has nothing to do with the transfer and I'm sure that Garcia did the best that he could with what he had. Overall, the look of the historical clips won't distract the viewer. The DVD carries a Dolby 2-channel audio track which runs at a constant 320 kbps. Those being interviewed are always clear and audible. The music in the film sounds fine and never overpowers those speaking.

The Sad Vacation DVD contains a few extras. "Bonus Interviews" (18 minutes) provides additional comments from six of those who agreed to recount their stories. We get the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Take a Chance" by The Heartbreakers. The final extras are two TRAILERS for the film.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long