Friday, March 14, 2008

Smithereens, slits, and sonic youth

So, first of all, I apologize for the span between entries. I've had a busy few days, so this was the first time I've had since Tuesday to write a new entry. Plus, I'm trying to keep the filler from overflowing this blog, so it's a good thing I happened upon some good topics today.

First off, at random today, around 11:30 am, I stumbled upon the movie Smithereens showing on one of the Showtime network branches. Without anything else to do, I relaxed on the couch and enjoyed this ninety-minute time capsule of early 80's-era Greenwich Village and its punk and new wave denizens. Directed by Susan Seidelman (of Desperately Seeking Susan fame), the film feels so fresh out of film school, but in a very good way. It's not without its technical difficulties (a mic appears in the shot more than once, and the sound is uniformly too low and of poor quality), and absolutely derivative of about ten French New Wave films, but this is a film that is clearly being made by the swayed friends and families and followers of a filmmaker hellbent on telling a little moral play about an ambitious, but talentless punkette attempting to break into the music business by shunning the true passions of a sweet portrait artist from Montana in favor of a callous, self-involved musician with a possible music deal in L.A. I had difficulty with the film for the first half-hour or so, because I was convinced I was supposed to like Wren (the girl), even as she dismisses poor Paul (the artist) despite the fact that he's the only person that doesn't want to use her. Sure, she's a cool girl, and I can certainly identify with her tendency to ramble when nervous or excited, but damn... the girl makes one bad decision after another, seems to be unable to manage true sympathy or empathy besides an adoration for those who have more talent to achieve what she aspires to. It took about twenty minutes for me to realize that despite all of Wren's talk of starting a band, getting famous, etc, she actually can't do anything besides occasionally manipulate those around her into providing her some kind of assistance. She uses Paul, she even uses Eric (played by Richard Hell, who provided several songs to the soundtrack, as well as being surprisingly one of the better actors in the film), the manipulative and amoral star-to-be. What he provides her is a place of importance, but only fleetingly, a fickle interest that leads Wren to ruin.

As mentioned, the film is perfectly made, and the acting ranges from good to passable, but it's an affecting film, at points even intoxicating in its realistic stagnancy and inevitability. I've known a fair amount of people in my life who, beyond all reason, seem to make choices that negate the good that other people do them and emphasize the bad that they receive from others. Wren's naive trust in Eric is contradictory of the skepticism and disbelief that is her response to Paul's earnest interest. She sabotages herself by wanting the wrong things from the wrong people. At the end, when the man that is following her in his car asks, "Do you have somewhere better to be?" Wren stops walking away. She doesn't. Left without anyone to use or even be used by, she is in a nothing position. The film freezes, as Wren is caught and identified in her frozen, forgotten spot.

The film has a great soundtrack going for it, and of course New York in the early eighties on film is always one of my great pleasures to behold. I love the look of a city still dirty, still celebratory in its grime and shabby edges. My housemate pointed out that Wren, at various times, dresses exactly like hip girls are dressing all over, and it's true. To the extent that contemporary fashion has gone backward never ceases to amaze me. The film is kind of worth watching for its music and look alone.

Anyway, that movie turned out to be a satisfying ninety-minute diversion. The rest of my day has been rather slow moving, despite the appearance of Hillary Clinton on my street. My housemate came in and said, "Hillary Clinton is down the street if you're interested." What sounded like a prank turned out to be all too true, as the Hildawg herself was at the Gulf service station on the corner of Liberty in Bloomfield. So, even in the rain, I went over there, to basically stare at the back of her head for twenty minutes in a crowd of wet, irritated and sometimes mocking locals. The highlight? A school bus of children driving past, with every child's voice ringing out, "O-BA-MA! O-BA-MA!" Har har... Seriously, though, the Secret Service guys were kind of creeping us out, so we left and went to the Attic in Millvale, the second-best (sorry guys) record store in Pittsburgh. I got a copy of Remain in Light, so it was a pretty decent trip.

In other news, the other big arrival to the city, on Friday, The Slits are playing the Warhol. I want to go, but I'm not sure if I can. If you're interested, however, go to for more information. Only $12, so the tickets are probably near gone. Darn...

One more thing before I return to my relaxing Friday (oh, and it's super relaxing right now, because I've got the She & Him album Volume One on, and despite my misgivings about M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel pairing up for a bluesy and folk-inspired album, I'm finding it quite pleasing. Also very relaxing, El Perro del Mar's From the Valley to the Stars. That's on next), a video treat for all those Sonic Youth Washing Machine-era fans out there (I know you're out there. It can't just be me...)

- Emily

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