Sunday, December 27, 2020

Female Desires

Smithereens (1982)/Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) - Seidelman Smithereens Susan Susan Seidelman's first two films - Smithereens and Desperately Seeking Susan tapped into the period between last throes of gutter punk 80s New York into New Wave scene like no other films did. Only rivaling films that capture that era NY culture are perhaps Slava Tsukerman's Liquid Sky (1982) and Martin Scorsese's male counterpart, After Hours (1985). Smithereens and Susan are similar in themes. Both are from the perspectives of New Jersey women who long to be part of New York scene and for that, they will manipulate their ways all the way to the Alphabet City to get what they want. They will emotionally abuse and parasidically live off of any willing men as long as necessary to be a part of New York's Lower Eastside music scene. However morally reprehensive these characters are in today's standards, these two films are intriguing time capsule cases, representing its time and place. And I can't help myself looking back on it nostalgically. These girls are bitchy, tough but also extremely attractive - Wren (Susan Berman) in Smithereens, Roberta (Rosanna Arquette) and Susan (Madonna) in Desperately Seeking Susan.

No they don't have an arcade game in their or their friends apartment, or cool furniture or lamp or anything of value. They usually don't have a place to sleep at night because they burned too many bridges already. But they somehow get by, usually by the grace of some ditsy girlfriends or men with heart of gold who they emotionally abuse.

The two films also reflect the changing landscape in New York at that time. The punk was almost dead and moved on to LA, the so-called no wave was too unglamorous to have groupies. Desperately Seeking Susan was shot in the summer of 84. MTV had their first music video award in the fall of 1984 which would make a mega star out of Madonna. Seidelman knew how to read the changing music scenes accurately. She also had the 80s sensibilities. There are no real tragedies in the Seidelman's grimey NY - no drug overdose, no AIDS yet, no serious domestic violence. Instead, there are cool shades, smashing jackets, spiked ankle boots, laced gloves and guys donned cool hairdo. It's the hip 80s, not the tragic, ugly 70s anymore.

Skindeep these films maybe. But Seidelman somehow makes these characters likable, partly because they are driven by their own desires. It's not their clothes and their coquettish looks, it's their drives to get what they want that turn out to be their most attractive qualities.