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Blinded by the Light
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A specific moment in NYC history, captures both time and place that doesn't exist any more. I had such a soft spot for Brad Rijn's "Paul", he was a really great guy. Too bad Wren couldn't see it, but that is part of the paradox, girls never want nice guys until they have already had their fun and by then it's too late.
NYC looks like shit in Susan Seidelman's 1982 punk debut but it is the perfect milieu for the youth at loose ends that populate her story. Most of them seem to have fled to the city to escape their home lives and to join like-minded others slumming it in the scene. Wren wants badly to be cool and she manipulates and uses others to try to reach this goal and it doesn't work well for her. The film is her character study. She falls in with nice guy Paul from Montana, who lives out of his van but she doesn't treat him right, instead trying to curry the favour of punk rocker Eric (Richard Hell) who wants to hit the road to L.A. The soundtrack by The Feelies (songs from Crazy Rhythms) is the perfect accompaniment to Wren's travails and adds mood and depth in the ellipses between scenes. The dialogue, though clearly scripted, takes on a naturalistic, almost Morrissey-Warhol sort of feel. You feel you are there. But where? In a world that no longer exists, dated, scrubbed clean, erased. Nice to see this on the big screen at the Melbourne International Film Festival.
Smithereens is an indy movie from the bowels of the punk rock years in Manhattan. I know some actual people who look back on those days with nostalgia, the whole CBGBs mystique, that romantic notion that rock was for a short time wrested from corporate hands into the raw, authentic power of youth, that if you had three chords and an amp, you could get up on stage and create real havoc.
When music touches someone, especially an impressionable kid, in a real place in their heart or mind, it can become one of the most powerful and defining experiences in life. You might recognize it as music that was meant for you, unlike any other thing you've ever seen. It can tell you that there are people who are like you, that you aren't as alone as you thought you were. And it can go a long way to defining you as a person, to embrace what hopefully is a more authentic, fully realized you (even though often it's just another artificial persona). Punk rock touched a lot of people this way.
This movie isn't really about that. It's about a girl on the periphery of this music, a girl with no perceivable talent or intelligence. She just likes the scene and wants to be a part of it, so she tries to force herself into it. She wants to be a performer, or a manager, or something. She tries to push herself onto people who seem to be connected, and it's clear she's got absolutely nothing to offer, and they dismiss her immediately.
I'm not sure Susan Siedelman, who made this movie in the midst of the punk rock zeitgeist, was really a part of it. The film doesn't really have a great feel for it, although it's heavy on the seediness of '80s Manhattan. If she had been a film student in the '50s, it probably would have been about folk music; it's just what was there when she had a camera to aim. So this is hardly the final word on the punk rock movement. Penelope Spheeris' The Decline of Western Civilization got it much better.
There is always danger when making a movie about semi-literate people. Certainly anyone who dreams of being a screenwriter can come up with better dialogue than the morons in this movie. It's definitely true that people really do speak like this. It's also true that those people's lives would make shitty movies. Movies about inarticulate people need to be solid on their themes and subtexts and overarching messages. Otherwise, they likely won't justify the celluloid they're printed on.
Smithereens justifies its celluloid, just because Wren is such a fucking bust-out, and Seidelman doesn't invent a happy ending for her. She's got nowhere to go, no one who hasn't run out of patience or sympathy for her, and is left at the moment she has to seriously confront the final option of prostituting herself, an option considered and taken by many a pretty little bust-out. This certainly rang true, as much of the movie rings true, because it's all so fucking miserable. I have had a long life philosophy that we can fool ourselves into being happy, but misery must be authentic, because who the hell would lie to themselves about being miserable?
But then, there was always an inauthenticity to punk nihilism, or they'd just commit suicide. I watched Smithereens the week after the Paris terrorist attacks. It was not hard to note the irony of a massacre at a concert for a band called the Eagles of Death Metal. (Yes, I realize they aren't REALLY a death metal band) The nihilistic pose of death metal, or punk rock, or goth or any other art form that pretends to exalt death looks pretty silly when faced with real death and misery. In the end, punk was just another affected persona that, if you managed to avoid the fatal needle in your arm, was a phase you went through before you settled down, cleaned up and lived your boring normal life.
I never connected at all to the punk rock music or lifestyle, and nothing I've ever seen made me feel like I missed anything. Whatever might have attracted me to the power of the punk lifestyle was overshadowed by the grubbiness of it. Watching this movie and seeing everyone on the streets all day, or living in vans and shitty cold-water apartments, one thought constant in my mind was, god, these people must stink.
Susan Seidelman directed this endearing low budget New Wave 1980s slice of life. It tells the tale of a young woman wanting to become a band manager in NYC as part of the punk/new wave scene. The characters are well developed and likable and although the film was clearly filmed on a shoestring, it has a 1980s reality that I don't think I'd seen an any other film outside of maybe "Suburbia," though that was more of a Los Angels film. Seidelman would follow-up this film with "Desperately Seeking Susan" which in many ways had a very similar setting and 1980s hip vibe to it. There are some amateurish supporting performances that drag the film down a bit, but the leads are all quite credible and well developed of characters. The only actor in the film who I'd ever heard of was Richard Hell. Seidelman is someone who I always thought should have had a more significant of career. This was a strong first outing and her next film was equally strong. She even followed up with two other strong quirky comedies, "Cookie" and "Making Mr. Right," but I wonder if "She Devil" kind of killer her career. But back to this film, overall it's a pretty cool little time capsule of the 1980s NYC new wave scene, which I thought was pretty cool.
i watched this film because I read that the feelies did the score, but ended up with the feeling that this is what rock and roll is all about really, a hierarchy of cool where bottom feeding is everyone's favorite pastime. I can imagine this film being "reimagined" today across the bridge in Williamsburg.
This movie seems directionless at first, but it does an exceptional job at drawing you into the characters' lives and making you care about them.
The main character of this movie reminds me of the main character of Cabaret, they're both self destructive women looking for love in the wrong places. The whole movie, especially the end, is really sad, but inevitable. This movie doesn't get very far into exploring this character, it just kinda lingers. It's not bad, though, it's just okay.
I know this SEEMS like the kind of thing I would cream myself over right? Old school-New-York-LES-punk rock-Richard Hell-art-blah blah blah. But ultimately it was just kinda sorta okay. I think my main problem with it was that there weren't any characters I liked well enough to root for. Wren was the sort of obnoxious girl who wants to be famous, but doesn't really seem to DO anything to be known for. I mean, she sort of messes with collage, but even this doesn't develop into anything--art piece, zine, mail art, nothing. She's ultimately one of those people who seeks notoriety more for who she's sleeping with than what she does. Cue Richard Hell's character, the big flavor-of-the-month in the local punk rock scene whom she fawns over. He's just the standard arrogant bad boy rocker. Not a terribly intriguing or memorable character. And the "sensitive" artist who lives in his van by the West Side Highway is just as bad in his own way. He comes in to the film all but stalking her, and spends the rest of the film being pissy, controlling, and otherwise exhibiting every red flag for an abusive personality psychologists can muster. The audience is expected to see him as the "better" choice for Wren, but seriously, ditch both of them and get a dildo chica! I guess this movie does have a point to make since I've known people in real life like all of these characters (or at least in the case of the cliche bad boy rocker, attempting to appear like them.) but since such kinds of people annoy me in real life, why would I want to spend time with them in a movie?
I LOVE so many things about this movie - the soundtrack, the beginning scene, Richard Hell, Susan Berman.
SimpatiÄno i ima Richarda Hella koji je tu uÅ¾asno ljigav.