Monday, February 22, 2010

Film Review: SMITHEREENS (1982, Susan Seidelman)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 89 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Susan Berman (MAKING MR. RIGHT), Richard Hell, Brad Rijn (PERFECT STRANGERS, SPECIAL EFFECTS, THE STUFF), Cookie Mueller (PINK FLAMINGOS, UNDERGROUND U.S.A.), Nada Despotovich (THE ROCKETEER, JERRY MAGUIRE), Chris Noth (his debut; watch for him in the scene near the end with a vanload of hookers). Co-written by Ron Nyswaner (THE PRINCE OF PENNSYLVANIA, PHILADELPHIA).
Tag-lines: "Who is this?"
Best exchange: "I left you my TV, it's too heavy to carry." –"I don't want your TV." "Well, I don't think it even works, anyway."

Raw, low-budget East Village filmmaking from a time when that didn't mean tourists, frat boys, wanna-bes, and poseurs– it meant heroin addicts, New Wavers, wanna-bes, and poseurs. Set in this nearly post-Apocalyptic world of vacant lots, garbage mounds, graffiti'd brickwork, and random street fires, SMITHEREENS follows Susan Berman, who plays an abrasive, self-promoting groupie from Jersey (inspired in part by Giulietta Masina in NIGHTS OF CABIRIA). Between photocopied poster distribution and getting evicted from her apartment (well, to be fair, she stopped paying rent!) she finds herself drawn to two different men- the only problem is that her selfish tendencies pave a route to alienation, detachment, and putting all her eggs in one basket, and- wait a second, where the hell did that basket just go? It was here just a minute ago! (Ain't that the way it always is.)

The two men are a naive Montana boy living out of his van (played by Larry Cohen's own Brad Rijn), and a smooth-talkin', strung-out, hard-up rocker who slicks back his hair with beer (played by Richard Hell of The Voidoids). Though Hell later felt that his performance sold out the hardcore Manhattan punks by insinuating that they'd gone all soft, greedy, and New Wave-y; his characterization is nonetheless brilliant. Like our heroine, he, too, is governed by the shifting sands of self-preservation. But while hers is driven by emotion, his possesses a frightening separation from reality. Any given moment could lead to an unexpected kiss, a sudden beating, or the old vanishing act.

"I thought I'd just let myself in!"

Richard Hell: not a fan of the 'drop-by.'

Directed by Susan Seidelman (who later did the madcap, candy-colored DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN), she allows the genuine grittiness to meld with her vivid photography and lively set design. There's freaky low-rent hookers ("I got a scar, I'll show it to you for $5, it's in a really interesting place"), a mind-blowing sci-fi film-within-a-film starring Cookie Mueller, cat fights, petty crime, shared toothbrushes, and a raggedy profundity. Four stars.

-Sean Gill

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a great film about the realities of the punk scene in NYC in the early 80s.
So sad tht its a really underrated movie.