We kick off our celebration of all things punk rock in film with a guest review from the tag team of trash, Nom and Razor from The Church of Splatter-Day Saints. For more of their bastardly antics check ’em out HERE
A group of Reagan-era punks and skins squat in an abandoned California suburb after fleeing their dysfunctional homes. They are The Rejected……..and this is their story.
Nom DePlume: This is the first real-punk movie that I fell in love with and it was due purely to the realism of being an outcast at that particular moment in time. The cast is mostly comprised of actual punks – not actors – so even in their ineptitude they excel as the film is realistic in its portrayal and not a contrived piece of shit. They can see through the “American Dream” bullshit and are pissed off that the society (from the wealthy to cops, community leaders, and their parents) that looks down on them are soulless fucks who abuse, molest, mistreat, disown and abandon their own children. So they do the only thing that makes sense to them: move out and take care of their own by squatting in an abandoned suburban tract home and raiding open middle-class garages for food and supplies. This is an astonishing first feature from Spheeris and I have to give her insane credit for keeping it genuine and about the kids and the lifestyle and not turning it into some plastic Hollywood bullshit to turn a quick profit. (and with Roger Corman producing that’s saying something)
Razor88: I concur – the film is very authentic. The fact that the kids in the film aren’t actors does show through but it adds to the integrity of the film in this case. I wasn’t “living the life” so to speak when I discovered it but having grown up in the 80s it’s always struck a chord with me. I remember seeing it in the video stores with that hideous neon pop art cover that made it look like a David Bowie sex tape/sci-fi thriller. I swear that fucking box art kept me from actually seeing this film that would ironically become a staple of my viewing repertoire. And really, how can anyone deny the awesomeness of a film that shows a toddler getting mauled by wild dogs within the first three minutes? Talk about kicking you in the teeth from the get-go and it doesn’t let up until the very end. I know Corman wrote the check but he certainly didn’t have a hand in it as far as I can tell. No space ships or insect rape here (although to be fair, most films would benefit from insect rape – this is one of those rare exceptions).
Nom: Ugh! That cover was embarrassing, a new-wave/Liquid Sky rip-off having nothing to do with the film at all. Speaking of new-wave, there’s the scene at the D.I. show where Skinner insults the new-wave poser and then with the help of a few others proceeds to humiliate and rip her dress off. I’ve read some reviews where they really rake this movie over the coals for that but it was about her being a radically out-of-place scenester who was there for all the wrong reasons. It was about having some fucking integrity and sex aside, you don’t get a free pass because you’ve got a gash, ya know? It was about teaching her a lesson if she had been strong enough to hear it. Speaking as a punk who grew up during the cold war and seeing the massive changes that have gone on within the community in the last 25 years this movie stands as a time capsule of an era. There was a sense of hopelessness and apathy trapped inside the angst-ridden kill-or-be-killed mentality. We see that same girl later in a Citizens Against Crime meeting dressed like the girl next door as her Daddy complains about the T.R. gang and punks in general. My attitude has always been that she was dutifully weeded out and not that the punks were being just as fascist as those they oppose. They opened their doors to anyone – social class and sex made no difference – it was about survival and need and not about how some poser slut dresses so that she can piss her parents off on the weekend. That little rant aside, I have always wished this movie would have had better bands – Circle Jerks, FEAR, etc. Why oh why did fucking TSOL have to be in this? Puke.
R88: The bitch was asking for it… I didn’t feel sorry for her in the least. Actually it always kind of irked me that the singer for D.I. starts whining at the kids assaulting her. That’s not a dig at D.I. – They’re alright – but come on. I do agree it would have been nice to see some better bands in this. FEAR would have been killer, GG Allin a wet dream (although I seriously doubt they would have been able to get a release very easily with the Troubled Troubadour’s performance). I like TSOL… at least the stuff they did prior to what they were performing in Suburbia. Could the guy have had more makeup on? At least they were fun to watch, and incidentally the best of the three bands in my opinion.
I noticed a fair bit of poignant symbolism here. The phone booth at the beginning – a monolith of hope in the darkness right before the dogs come, the T.R. kids living in a dilapidated house that was meant to be someone’s utopian dream home now a rotting husk of economic ruin and shattered dreams yet right on the outskirts of where “civilized” society lives and breeds. Even the land they live on is owned by the county and therefore outside the city’s influence. The kids are truly isolated from everything in every way and Spheeris really drives that home brilliantly. It’s almost like T.R. are unto themselves a pseudo-dystopian society nestled amongst the straight-laced, invading their space to take what they need like some sort of rebel force overthrowing an oppressive regime. The irony here is these kids are truly just products of their environment. I really liked that Spheeris has a lot to say and the film isn’t just a showcase or excuse to put a few punk bands into a movie.
Nom: That’s interesting because I thought some of it was a little heavy-handed… the wild dogs being a metaphor for the kids, remnants of lives that effortlessly move on without them now left to fend for themselves and becoming feral in the process (The alternate title of The Wild Side would have been fucking tragic). The hokey comic-relief-obviousness of the redneck assholes passing moralistic judgment on T.R. as they sit in a fucking strip club watching titties jiggle and plan their ignorant, right-wing attack on children. That being said, there were a few scenes of absolute brilliance that for fleeting moments transcended celluloid and evoked the beauty and power found in unity. I’m speaking of course of the slow motion shot of the gang walking in the upper middle class neighborhood and the shot of all of them scattered motionless and silent across Sheila’s front yard. Fucking gorgeous. The thing that I probably love most about the film is that it ends on such a down-note, it doesn’t wrap up in a neat bow at the end with everyone going back home to happy families. It ends as it begins, in the midst of tragedy and loss with no definitive path and no answers in sight.
Nom/R88: Suburbia perfectly captures a frustrated subculture in an era of depression. It pulls no punches, is exceedingly thought-provoking and remains relevant to this day. Essential viewing.
Official COSDS Nunspank(TM) Rating: 4