Monday, November 16, 2020

Alexandre O. Philippe Explores William Friedkin's Leap of Faith into The Exorcist

LEAP OF FAITH: WILLIAM FRIEDKIN ON THE EXORCIST 
(Alexandre O. Philippe, USA, 2019, 104 mins) 

 
 

 
Memory: The Origins of Alien, Alexandre O. Philippe's 2019 documentary on the making of Ridley Scott's 1979 film, was not without merit. In fact, it was pretty interesting, though a filmmaker would have to make a concerted effort to produce a dull doc about a sci-fi/horror hybrid as exciting as Alien. It was also an attractive work, in terms of the cinematography, editing, and graphic design. That can't be said about all making-of documentaries, especially those made by inexperienced or under-funded filmmakers. 

It wasn't everything it could be, though. In addition to the extraneous interludes--a structuring scheme featuring costumed actors that means to play like a sort of epilogue to Alien--the film lacked any present-day interviews with Scott or Sigourney Weaver. It also covered some of the same ground as Frank Pavich's fascinating documentary about the unmaking of Jodorowsky's Dune through the profiles of special effects supervisor Dan O'Bannon and Swiss artist H.R. Giger, who designed Alien's insatiable alien.

William Friedkin, however, worked with Phillippe on this essay film about the making of The Exorcist. If Memory represented Philippe's take on Scott's film, Leap of Faith represents Friedkin's take on his own, since he provides the voiceover. In that sense, it's like Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow's overview of Brian De Palma's filmography, in which their subject appears to share directing duties with the duo behind the camera. When it comes to born storytellers, like De Palma and Friedkin, this seems like the way to go. 

Friedkin starts off by talking about Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1955 resurrection drama Ordet as a significant influence on his 1973 film, even though he drew from William Peter Blatty's preexisting text for the narrative. He doesn't mention it, but Lars von Trier also drew from Ordet for 1996's Breaking the Waves, an intimate relationship story different from The Exorcist in most every respect--except for the focus on faith. 

From there, he talks about a Chicago childhood in which hard-edged pictures, like Orson Welles's Citizen Kane and Stanley Kubrick's The Killing, loomed large. He knew from an early age that he wanted to be a director. By the time Blatty's 1971 novel came his way, he saw an opportunity to combine his interests in fate and faith into one film. He started by rejecting Blatty's conventionally-structured script, and writing one which more closely adhered to the original novel, including the Iraq prologue, which everyone wanted him to cut (Blatty, a former reporter, drew from personal experience for that section). Friedkin held fast. Josh and Benny Safdie would borrow the prologue idea for Uncut Gems, in which they trace a bad-luck blood opal on its journey from the mountains of Ethiopia to a New York gem shop.

As he goes on, it's clear that Friedkin has spent a lot of time talking about this film, and not because he sounds bored or rehearsed. On the contrary, he clearly enjoys revisiting it. It's more that he speaks like a visiting guest lecturer as he makes connections between other thematically-aligned films that preceded The Exorcist, like Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, which establishes the textures of the everyday world before peeling back the layers to reveal some of its darker corners. This isn't a critique; it's more that some viewers may find the abundance of narration wearying, though the dozens of film clips well illustrate his words (Philippe made an entire film, 2017's 78/52, specifically about Psycho's shower scene). 

By other films, I'm including Friedkin's own, which is why even The Exorcist agnostics may find Philippe's film of interest, because he can't really get into the weeds without also discussing The French Connection, Sorcerer, The Brink's Job, and Cruising, which employed similar techniques, like subliminal sounds, momentary flashbacks, and surrealistic effects. Unlike Kubrick, of whom he's clearly an admirer, he's a self-described "one-take guy." He also encouraged cinematographer Owen Roizman to continue filming after scenes appeared to be over. He was looking for spontaneity and surprise. 

That leads to a discussion of the actors, all of whom rose to the occasion, including Max von Sydow, Ellen Burstyn, Lee J. Cobb, real-deal priest William O'Malley, and playwright Jason Miller (That Championship Season), who replaced Stacy Keach at the last minute. Friedkin admits that it took some of them awhile to get to the heart of their characters. A sticking point for Von Sydow? "I don't think I believe in God," he told the startled director, who cast him largely on the basis of films, like Ingmar Bergman's The Passion of Anna and Nicholas Ray's King of Kings, in which his characters spoke directly to God.  

This is all well and good, but there would be no movie without Linda Blair, and Friedkin has nothing to say about her. Though he collaborated closely on this documentary, the director is ultimately responsible for its content. If Friedkin didn't bring her up, why didn't Philippe? It's a disappointing oversight, not least because Friedkin goes into great detail about Mercedes McCambridge who provides the voice of the devil once it takes possession of Blair's 12-year-old character, Regan. It's a masterstroke of casting, and McCambridge deserves her props, but Blair does, too. I was eight years old when I first saw the film, and I doubt it would have affected me the way it did if Blair hadn't been so believable. She was good in other films, too, but she's rarely gotten the credit she deserves, so it's sad to see this trend continue, particularly in a documentary about her most famous role. 

So, it's a flaw, but the film ends on a note that almost makes up for it as Friedkin admits that The Exorcist is a flawed film. For as much pride as he takes in it, and for all his gratitude for the many happy accidents that went into its making, both he and Blatty believe that the climactic moment in the film, when the devil possesses Jason Miller's priest, Karras, doesn't make complete sense if you think about it. I take his point, but it makes emotional sense, and that's why so many viewers take it on face value.

As a film about The Exorcist, Leap of Faith feels incomplete, and not just because there's no mention of Linda Blair, but there's no acknowledgment of the sequels and prequels that followed or The Ninth Configuration, the 1980 William Peter Blatty-directed film that brought former Father Karras rivals, Stacy Keach and Jason Miller, together. As a film about William Friedkin's interests and philosophies, however, it gets the job done. In that sense, it's more of an introduction than an overview, but it's an insightful one.  


Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist is out now on Shudder. Images from Warner Home Video (Max von Sydow approaching the MacNeil home and Stacy Keach and Jason Miller in The Ninth Configuration), Everett Collection (Sigourney Weaver as Ripley with Jones the cat), A24 via AP (Adam Sandler, Kevin Garnett, and Lakeith Stanfield in Uncut Gems), and Warner Brothers/Getty Images (Friedkin directing Linda Blair).

Sunday, October 25, 2020

On "Lemon Incest," the Creepy Provocation That Launched 12-Year-Old Charlotte Gainsbourg's Career

This is the unedited version of the paper I presented at this year's Pop Conference. I've included four paragraphs cut from my presentation...which still exceeded the allotted 10 minutes. To watch the edited version, part of a panel on Speculative Selves, click here

I began with a 33-second-long video of eight-year-old Charlotte practicing the piano. After that, my paper began in earnest. As in this post, I ended with a more contemporary video, but I only had time to play about 30 seconds worth. Due to time constraints, I was unable to include the official and live studio versions of "Lemon Incest." I've embedded them below.    


 

Charlotte Gainsbourg, the daughter of actress Jane Birkin and musician Serge Gainsbourg, was 12 years old in 1984 when she recorded the song "Lemon Incest" with her father. It was part of Serge's multimedia project to bring her to the world's attention by way of a song he wrote, produced, and sang with her. Two years later, he followed it up with an album he wrote and produced for her in conjunction with a film he wrote, directed, produced, and co-starred in with her, both called Charlotte For Ever. 

But first came the single. The title was a play on the French words for lemon zest, "un zeste de citron." It doesn't scan in English, but in French, "lemon incest" translates as "inceste de citron." The title was designed to provoke, and it did, although the lyrics, when translated into English, dispute the idea that there was a sexual relationship between father and daughter. That made it no less controversial, because Charlotte, by way of Serge's lyrics, is still describing what that scenario could be like, even if she isn't describing what it was like, painting pictures such as "The love we'll never make together is the most beautiful, the rarest, the most disconcerting, the purest, the headiest."

Fifty-eight years old at the time, Serge mumbles the lyrics over a Chopin-gone-disco beat in a rum and nicotine-saturated rasp. By contrast, Charlotte sounds like the child that she was. Her voice is tentative, unsteady, and pitched uncomfortably high. Her father sounds relaxed, possibly even a little bored, whereas she gives the distinct impression that she'd like to be anywhere else doing anything else. 

Despite the bad press the single generated, and possibly even because of it, it was a top 10 hit in France where it spent four weeks at #2 on the singles chart. When asked about it in 2010 by Sean O'Hagan of The Observer, Charlotte said, "Fortunately, I had just gone to boarding school when the song came out. I was totally unaware of this big scandal. I was protected from it." As for the lyrics, she said, "I knew what I was talking about. But for me, it wasn't a problem. I had fun with it. Plus, there was pureness behind it. It's really the love of a father and daughter." And that’s been her line on the song for 26 years now. 

But the video tells a different story. If "Lemon Incest," title aside, describes the love of a father and daughter, the Serge-directed video warps that idea beyond recognition. It isn't selling love or affection, but rather sex. That's exactly what many videos were selling in the 1980s, but few of them featured a semi-nude father and preteen daughter miming their song in a sexually suggestive manner atop an unmade bed. Instead of bedroom furnishings, the dry ice-shrouded duo cavorts amidst marbled floors and mirrored walls as if they were the display in a museum to illicit sex. There are no cutaways to other locations or times in their lives. It's about the moment, and nothing else. At 5:08 minutes, it feels like an eternity. 


For sheer cringe-worthiness, the title track of the 1986 film, Charlotte For Ever, gives "Lemon Incest" a run for the money. It plays over the opening credits in which Serge is billed simply as Gainsbourg, while Charlotte is billed by her full name. In the song, Serge and the male backing vocalists sing the chorus, which plays more like a paeon to a dead girl than a live one, while Charlotte whispers in a wavery voice that plays like a less seductive version of the orgasmic sighing Jane Birkin contributed to her infamous 1969 duet with Serge, "Je T'aime … Moi Non Plus," which translates as "I Love You … Me Neither."

In the film, Serge plays Stan, a screenwriter, and she plays Charlotte, his estranged daughter. Charlotte believes Stan killed her mother, who died in a car accident. At this point, I should note that Serge and Jane Birkin had split up in 1980, so this is six years later. The film has no interest in his guilt or innocence--he insists it was an accident and we're meant to believe him--but the absence of a mother figure allows him to double down on themes he first established in "Lemon Incest." It's a long list: he focuses on Charlotte's derriere while she's pouring a bath, films her taking off her top while she dances in front of a mirror, has her bathe him as if he was a child, and establishes that she sleeps in the nude. His character also undresses one of her school friends, and suggests that the girl is okay with it. "You're like a creamy toffee," he tells Charlotte at one point, "Still fresh." The implication is that adult women are not. 

Throughout, Serge objectifies all of the women in the film and converses with his daughter primarily about sex. Sometimes, Charlotte protests; sometimes she doesn't. Once she decides she's had enough, she insults his latest conquest before yelling, "He's mine!," kicking the woman out of their flat, and enjoying a slow dance with dad. The film ends with the two on an unmade bed, much as in the video for "Lemon Incest," as they writhe to the sax-saturated electropop. The point is that Stan has finally convinced Charlotte he didn't kill her mother, but more importantly, that they're meant to be together--forever. 

Even if they weren't related, Charlotte was only 15 at the time. By building a film around his daughter, he had the opportunity to counter "Lemon Incest" in some way, but instead, he reinforces the idea that the song wasn't merely a fluke or a provocation, but that he really wanted people to think he was sexually attracted to her, not least because he doesn't even bother to give her character a different name. Fortunately, the album he produced for her isn't quite as creepy, though the tinkly synths, rubbery bass, and hair-metal guitar solos haven't aged well and Charlotte sounds no more mature than she did on the single. Nonetheless, the solo numbers work better than the ones in which her father barges in to duet with her. 

Between the song and the film, Charlotte played another motherless character named Charlotte in Claude Miller's L'Effronte, aka The Impudent Girl. Thirteen-year-old Charlotte, who describes herself as homely, becomes entranced with a pretty blonde piano prodigy and ends up having a fling with a welder who is working on a project for the girl's manager in an attempt to get close to her. It sets the tone for the career to come as she'll often play women who aren't as pretty as they or other people would like them to be. 


Jane Birkin, who has described "Lemon Incest" as "perfectly beautiful," would go on to star in a 1988 film with Charlotte, Agnès Varda's Le Petit Amour, aka Kung-Fu Master!, in which she plays a 40-year-old single mother who falls in love with a 15-year-old boy. Varda's script sprung from an idea that Birkin brought to her. Charlotte and Lou Doillon, Jane's daughter with director Jacques Doillon, play her kids. 

Like Jonathan Glazer's Birth, it isn't a film about sex so much as the romantic feelings two age-inappropriate people can have for each other. Varda's approach is sympathetic and non-judgmental, but it's also deeply sad. It may be coincidental that Birkin would star in such a film, but the Birkin-Gainsbourg clan shared similar interests, and it's worth noting that Mathieu Demy, Varda's son with director Jacques Demy, plays the boy. As Birkin's Mary Jane tells Charlotte's Lucy, "Feelings are so important when you're 14, 15, 16." The implication is that the feelings of adult women aren't quite as important. 

Eighteen years later, Charlotte re-launched her music career with the album 5:55. As a singer, she hadn't changed much since 1984. Her vocals, much like her speaking voice, are so effervescent they practically melt into the instrumentation. She sings in English, although you can hardly tell. The lyrics, written by Pulp's Jarvis Cocker and the Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon, are hard to discern. Nigel Godrich, best known for his work with Radiohead, produced the album and Jean-Benoît Dunckel and Nicolas Godin of Air served as composers. 

To her credit, Charlotte reintroduced herself as a musician with a charming, baroque-pop sound, though it comes across more as a collection of tasteful influences than a personal aesthetic. One of those influences, of course, was Serge Gainsbourg, maybe not lyrically or vocally, but certainly musically. "The Songs That We Sing" for instance, makes use of the same swirling melody as "Bonnie and Clyde," her father's famed duet with actress and one-time lover Brigitte Bardot. 

The next year, in 2007, Charlotte suffered a brain injury as the result of a waterskiing accident. Two years later, she issued IRM, a collaboration with Beck, who had sampled her father's "Melody Nelson" for the song "Paper Tiger" off his 2002 album Sea Change. On it, she emerges as a more confident musician who has learned to speak up in all senses of the term. Instead of whispering, she's developed a Marc Bolan-like croon that suits Beck's glam-rock backing. 

Though she recovered from her near-fatal injury, the precarious feeling of suspension between life and death stayed with her. The title is the French initialism for MRI, the scanning device with which she became obsessed. On the title track, she circles Matmos territory as she integrates its beeps into the rhythm track. It's still a collaborative effort more than a true solo work, since she only co-wrote one song, but more of her unique personality comes through.

Charlotte's acting career, meanwhile, would continue to encompass a wide variety of films, many non-confrontational in nature, but she would court controversy again with roles in Danish director Lars von Trier's Antichrist in 2009 and the two-part Nymphomaniac in 2013 (between the two, she also appeared in von Trier's less sexually-explicit Melancholia). Not counting her uncle Andrew Birkin's male-gazey 1993 adaptation of Ian McEwan's The Cement Garden, in which she plays one half of an incestuous brother-sister duo, these films would come closest to inspiring the kind of uproar that "Lemon Incest" once did. 

In Nymphomaniac, for instance, she plays a woman who claims to have become addicted to sex at the age of two, although she doesn't lose her virginity until years later. For all of the gynecological nudity, the film isn't explicitly judgmental. If anything, von Trier feels for Joe who is consumed by guilt for the harm her single-minded focus has caused. It's to an older man, Stellan Skarsgård’s professorial Seligman, that she tells her story. He believes she's too hard on herself, and since he claims to be asexual, the director eliminates the possibility of sexual tension. In true von Trier fashion, however, he takes all of the good will generated by that dynamic and throws it away in the film's final moments. Once again, a good man reveals himself as bad, although in this case, the woman emerges triumphant in best Freudian fashion. 

Off screen, Charlotte suffered the most crushing loss since the death of her father in 1991 when her half-sister, 46-year-old photographer Kate Barry, the daughter of Jane Birkin and composer John Barry, died as the result of a fall from her fourth-floor window that same year. Barry had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction since she was a teenager, and the fall was believed to be intentional, though Charlotte has expressed her doubts about those claims. The loss spurred a move from her native Paris to New York City with her partner, writer-director Yvan Attal, and their three children the following year. In the aftermath, she would begin work on the album Rest, which includes songs about both Serge and Kate. 

Although it isn't surprising that the daughter of a male musician would work with so many men, the lack of women in her discography is disappointing. Instead of working with women, however, she did something even more significant: Charlotte wrote every song on Rest, her first to include French lyrics, something she had previously avoided specifically to distinguish her work from her father's. In French, the word reste with an "e" means "stay," lending the title a double meaning. 

And this is the point, at the age of 46, that she truly becomes the author of her own narrative, though the album still features notable male guest stars, including Paul McCartney and Daft Punk's Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo. She also directed the striking, B&W video for "Deadly Valentine," which features Dev Hynes of Blood Orange. 

But there's more to it than that. Just as her father introduced her to the world through a duet, she would introduce her youngest daughter to the world in a similar way. You'd think she'd have learned her lesson, but the context is entirely different as Jo, now eight years old, simply sings her ABC's over the hidden track at the end of Rest. And that's the extent of it: a kid being a kid. Something Charlotte never really got the chance to do, at least not in any kind of conventional sense. 

If she's never disavowed "Lemon Incest," to the extent that she still performs it in concert, she appears to have done everything within her power since the recording of the song to make sure that it won't be the thing for which she's best remembered. I'd like to end with Charlotte performing "Lemon Incest" in Arles, France in 2018. She turned 47 that year; she turned 49 this year. She appears relaxed, confident, and in control. In this case, she sings her father's part while synth player Paul Prier sings the part she sang as a child. It’s her song now.


Images from Wikipedia (2009's IRM and 2017's Rest, both Because Music), Amazon (1988's Le Petite Amour, Prism Entertainment home video), and Discogs (1985's "Lemon Incest" 7-inch and CD single, 1986's Charlotte For Ever full-length album, and 1986's "Charlotte Forever" 7-inch, all Philips).  

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Thirty-Six Years after Its Debut: Sixteen Candles Is Still Tender and (Mostly) True

SIXTEEN CANDLES 
(John Hughes, US, 1984, 4K restoration, 92 mins) 

"They fucking forgot my birthday."
--Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald)

I was still in my teens when John Hughes' directorial debut made its first appearance. I was in college, not high school, but the film wasn't specifically directed at teenagers. It was about them, but unlike those teen films where the adults natter away nonsensically like characters from out of a Charlie Brown animated special, the adults were fully realized individuals. Nonetheless, the film wasn't especially interested in them. It was all about the teens.

For the Chicago-based Hughes, a veteran of National Lampoon and Second City, movies about adults would come later. Some would do well both critically and commercially; some would not, but they never held much interest for me. Not films about adults per se, but Hughes' films about adults, like She's Having a Baby and Planes, Trains and Automobiles (and I feel the same way about his family films, like the Home Alone series). His films about teens are not without imperfections, and some aspects haven't aged well, but he put his heart into the teen trio he made with Molly Ringwald, which began with Sixteen Candles and ended with Pretty in Pink

It's interesting, in retrospect, that Hughes chose a young woman to represent his thoughts about the terrors and triumphs of adolescence, but it's unlikely the films would've worked as well with male protagonists. Ringwald's Samantha Baker, in Sixteen Candles, isn't an everykid; she's very specifically female. She isn't the most popular girl at her suburban high school, but nor is she the least popular. She isn't a nerd, she isn't friendless, and she isn't unattractive, but nor is she attractive in the conventional cheerleader way. She's taller and her hair is shorter, but she's every bit as fashionable as Cher Horowitz in Clueless, albeit in a quieter, less expensive manner. In other words, she carries herself with confidence, and boys notice her--just not the one boy whose attentions she would most like to attract.

Molly, John, and Mike / Universal Pictures
The joke, as it were, is on her. In a strictly visual--as opposed to a narrative--sense, Hughes doesn't depict Sam's auspicious 16th birthday from her point of view. Consequently, we see Jake Ryan (former model Michael Schoeffling) noticing her long before she does. She's a sophomore, and she doubts that such a handsome, popular senior would notice someone like her--especially since he has a pretty, prom queen girlfriend--but this isn't the kind of movie where he realizes at the last minute that the girl of his dreams has been right there all the time. No, he picks up a sex quiz meant for Sam's friend in which she confesses a fantasy that she's saving herself for him, and he sees her clearly for the first time. 

If she carries herself with confidence, it doesn't mean she's confident. In that sense, I suppose she is an everykid or an every-person, because it's a pretty relatable state of affairs. She even describes herself as "utterly forgettable." She isn't, of course, though Jake may never have noticed her if it wasn't for the quiz. His character is purposefully underwritten; Hughes always, always privileges Sam's hopes and fears. And she's already feeling vulnerable, because her family has forgotten her birthday while preparing for her older sister's wedding. Both sets of grandparents are in town, and so she ends up sleeping on the living room sofa. Though her house looks like a mansion from the outside, there simply aren't enough rooms for two parents, three siblings, two older couples, and a foreign exchange student. 

Jake, on the other hand, lives in a literal mansion. Hughes never once suggests that Sam likes him because he's rich, and he turns out to be something other than a snob, but in our more economically-divided era, it's a detail that's impossible to miss, not least because of Jake's red Porsche, expensive haircut, and Ralph Lauren sweater vests. His father also has a Rolls Royce and a wine cellar…which gets destroyed during a raucous party. 

If Sam and Jake got together after the quiz interception, there would be no movie, so Hughes throws every conceivable obstacle in their way. That's where the humor comes in, because Jake is a straight man in every sense of the word, but Sixteen Candles is a genuinely funny film with plenty of throwaway gags that betray Hughes' Lampoon origins, some involving up-and-coming Chicago kids John and Joan Cusack. It's also where the problems arise, but more on that later. The marketing around the film included an image of Sam and Jake sitting on either side of a birthday cake, so no one watching it could possibly have been in any doubt as to where things would end up: Sam would get the guy and the birthday recognition that had eluded her the entire time. 

Before she arrives at that fairy tale ending, she has to resist the advances of persistent gnat Ted Farmer (Anthony Michael Hall, with whom Ringwald would reunite in The Breakfast Club). It's to Hall's credit, through a combination of crack timing and uninhibited physicality, that Ted is more of a harmless goof than a serious harasser, because he doesn't understand that when a girl says she isn't interested, it's best to leave well enough alone. In Hughes' optimistic worldview, Sam and Ted can be friends once they've come to an understanding, not least when he "bags a babe" of his own. That he ends up with the least likely romantic partner signifies the triumph of this particular nerd. In the process, though Hughes risks portraying Ted as the kind of guy who will only grow more boorish and entitled with time.  

Sam's self-obsessed sister, Ginny (Blanche Baker, Carroll Baker's daughter), who is accustomed to attracting the kind of male attention she craves, represents another obstacle to her happiness, and the distinction between the two only grows throughout the film. In Hughes' eyes, Sam, the sister with character, deserves a fulfilling romantic partnership, while Ginny's marriage to obnoxious "bohunk" Rudy (John Kapelos, another Second City alum) seems unlikely to end well. Though the wedding sequence in which Ginny arrives stoned out of her mind on muscle relaxants is meant to play as comedy, there's a sense that Hughes feels these buffoonish characters are beneath him. They're designed to make the audience laugh--and to make Sam and Jake seem sane and sensible in comparison--and that's about it. Maybe that isn't the worst thing in the world, but he doesn't extend the same courtesy to them to redeem themselves that he does to Ted. 

As for Long Duk Dong, it's possible that in 1984, Hughes felt he was being magnanimous by giving the film's sole Asian character a love interest of his own, but the relationship is also played primarily for laughs. In this case, he set the actors, Gedde Watanabe and Deborah Pollack, free to give in to their wackiest impulses. That's how they remember it, at any rate, in the joint interview included with the new Blu-ray. Pollack adds that she often stood on an apple box so that she would appear taller than her screen partner. Though Watanabe has taken numerous hits over the years for playing a character perceived as racially insensitive, he emphasizes how much fun he had making the movie, and it's still the role for which he's best known. If anyone should take a hit, it should be Hughes.

Then there's Jake's girlfriend, Caroline (Haviland Morris), another unfortunate stereotype, less for the way the actress plays her, than for the way the film treats her as a sparkly bauble to be passed from one man to another. Even nice-guy Jake jokes, "I could violate her ten different ways if I wanted to" after she passes out at his party. Like I said, he isn't exactly a comedian, but we're supposed to find her story arc amusing, since Hughes presents her as a shallow striver who gets her comeuppance only to find an unexpected happy ending--a development he would turn inside out for Weird Science in which two Frankenstein-like nerds (including Anthony Michael Hall) build their own Bride--but it mostly plays as misogynist.  

The Blu-ray's other special features include interviews with Kapelos, casting director Jackie Burch, actor-turned-director Adam Rifkin ("New Wave Nerd"), camera operator Gary Kibbe (standing in for the late Bobby Byrne), and composer Ira Newborn. There's also a video essay from Soraya Roberts, who has more critical than complimentary things to say about the film, and a 2008 featurette featuring Hall, Morris, Paul Dooley, Justin Henry, screenwriter Diablo Cody (Juno), and director Michael Lehman (Heathers). The absence of Ringwald from any of these extras is a real shame. She has spoken eloquently in The New Yorker and in other forums about her work with Hughes, specifically The Breakfast Club, but her voice is missing here. 

Some of the actors in the film, like Schoeffling and Watanabe, were in their 20s when they starred in Hughes' first feature, but Ringwald was a real-deal teenager. Her cast mates remember things about her, like the fact that her father was a talented pianist or that she was often listening to Kate Bush at the time. It left me wanting to hear more about who she was in relation to Samantha Baker, a character Hughes wrote specifically for her, and who she become because of--and perhaps even in spite of--this deceptively self-confident, romantically insecure, ultimately timeless teenage heroine.

 

The Special Edition version of Sixteen Candles is out now on Arrow Video.  

Thursday, October 8, 2020

My Analyst Told Me That I Was Right Out of My Head: On Brandon Cronenberg's Possessor

POSSESSOR
(Brandon Cronenberg, UK/Canada, 2020, 103 mins)

Possessor begins as a woman named Holly (Gabrielle Graham) pokes a needle into the top of her skull. She smiles at first, and then tears begin to flow as the substance she has injected works its way into her system. The way Brandon Cronenberg moves in to capture the blood oozing from the wound confirms that he's David Cronenberg's son. If anything, the entirety of Antiviral, his directorial debut, did the same, and yet it doesn't feel as if he's copying his father so much as continuing his obsession with the body and its (mal)-
functions, particularly when it comes into contact with man-made entities. 

In the next scene, Holly has changed her hairstyle from cornrows to a sleek, asymmetrical bob. She proceeds to enter an elevator with several other attractive young hostesses all clad in sky blue and white track suits. She then exits the elevator, walks up a set of gilded stairs, enters a banquet hall, strides to the bar, and plunges a knife, over and over again, into the ample belly of a middle-aged businessman. The result is a disgusting, bloody mess. Not to give too much away, but she doesn't make it out of the hall alive.

Cronenberg then shifts to pale, blonde Tasya "Taz" Vos (Andrea Riseborough looking almost nothing like her brunette Mandy character), "the star performer," as handler Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh, star of David Cronenberg's eXistenZ) describes her, of a Minority Report-like assassination-for-hire organization. Taz was controlling Holly's consciousness when the hostess killed a man in cold blood. 

After her exit interview, she returns to her husband (Rossif Sutherland, Donald Sutherland's son) and child (Gage Graham-Arbuthnot). On the news, she catches a report about the murder, but doesn't say a word. Husband and son have no idea they live with an assassin. But they do know that the increasingly preoccupied Taz has been slipping away from them.

At their next meeting, Girder fills Taz in on Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott, born to play a patsy-turned-psycho), her next method-acting assignment. Taz studies up on him, figures out what makes him tick, and then takes control of his brain. Cronenberg depicts this Star Trek-meets-Freaky Friday process by way of nifty, in-camera effects (among his many credits, cinema-
tographer Karim Hussain has shot episodes of Hannibal). When Colin wakes up the next day, he looks the same, but he's actually Taz (her body remains in the research institute). He tries to act as if nothing has changed, but his fiancé, Ava (Tuppence Middleton), notes, "You're acting strange today." 

Colin goes off to work at his spectacularly dull job as part of a surveillance unit in a data-mining firm overseen by Ava's CEO father, John Parse (Sean Bean at his Beaniest). As at home, he tries to act like the old Colin, but something isn't quite right. His mind keeps short-circuiting. He's Colin one minute and Taz the next. No one can see what's going on, but he can feel it--and we can see it (this is where the melty-face imagery from the poster comes in). The malfunction follows him home where he and Ava prepare to attend a party at her father's mansion. Colin's target: her disapproving dad. 

All the while, the voice in his ear tells him what to do and how to do it, like a Mission Impossible operative. Once again, a disgusting bloody mess ensues. Then the short-circuiting kicks in again. After Colin takes care of business, Taz attempts to return to her body. It didn't work the way it was supposed to with Holly, and it doesn't work the way it's supposed to with Colin either. Fate took Holly out of the picture, but Taz remains stuck in Colin's body. The longer it goes on, the more harm he could cause, and the more likely she is to suffer permanent brain damage. 

In the end, Possessor is a slasher film in the guise of sci-fi horror. As with John Woo's Face/Off, Cronenberg depicts technology that doesn't yet exist, and possibly never will, but when you look past the genre trappings, he's essentially depicting schizophrenia. There's a point at which Colin argues with Taz, and suddenly, the scenario seems less fantastical than before. That's life for some people. The impossibility of two separate individuals sharing one brain only leads to more bloodshed than Taz had intended. Let's just say Colin takes his murderous assignment and runs with it.

For the most part, the actors make the unbelievable believable. As written, Taz is a little opaque, but Colin make up for it with the force of his anger. When Taz takes control of his brain to force him to kill, she taps into resentment that was already there, which is possibly why he doesn't just aim to kill, but to torture and maim along the way. Colin represents an extension of Abbott's work in James White and It Comes at Night where decency and danger commingle, and it isn't always possible to predict which side of his persona will win out in the end. The tragedy of Possessor is that Colin never fully becomes Taz. He knows what he's doing, but he doesn't know how to stop it. She doesn't either. But Brandon Cronenberg does.  


Possessor opens in theaters and drive-ins on Friday. Digital and VOD TBA.  

Thursday, August 6, 2020

In She Dies Tomorrow, It's All in Your Head Until It's in Everybody Else's Head, Too

A+ poster design
SHE DIES TOMORROW 
(Amy Seimetz, 2020, rated R, USA, 85 minutes)

Writer-director Amy Seimetz's first feature in eight years has been described as a horror film, and although it looks and sounds like one, it plays like something else--an existential thriller or an experimental comedy, perhaps--but I'm not sure that it really matters. Once a film makes its way into the world, it's up to viewers to interpret it as they will, but I can see why the marketing suggests horror: horror sells. And if that encourages people to take a chance on this un-categorizable film, more's the better (some of them will surely be disappointed, but that's the risk filmmakers take when they color outside the lines).

It begins with a disorienting closeup of an anxious eye before Seimetz introduces cinematic doppelgänger Amy (Kate Lynn Sheil from her debut, Sun Don’t Shine). She's just bought a house somewhere in Southern California, and she should be happy, except something isn't quite right. That something is her premonition that she will die tomorrow. It isn't inconceivable. Any of us could. More so when a pandemic has the entire fucking globe in its grip. Back when she was shooting this self-financed feature, Seimetz couldn't have seen that coming, and yet the film reflects the very real fears with which millions of us have been grappling.  

So Amy walks around in a fugue state, playing Mozart's "Lacrimosa" over and over again, and having half-formed phone conversations. Her friend, Jane (the invaluable Jane Adams), arrives for a visit and finds Amy wearing a sequin-covered dress while trimming the hedges in her hilly backyard. It's pitch dark, so she can't possibly see what she's doing. Jane talks her down, but she can't understand what's going on with her friend, and she doesn't have much patience for the moping, the drinking (Amy is a recovering alcoholic), and the gibberish about leather jackets and death.

Patient Jane Adams infects doctor Josh Lucas
Seimetz's elliptical style, which includes intentionally abrupt transitions, ensures that none of this unfolds in a straightforward manner. That was also true of the clammy, noirish Sun Don’t Shine. There are cutaways to bright, pulsating lights and unidentifiable liquids under a microscope. Some of these things are explained, some are not. Either we're seeing things as Amy and Jane do, or the imagery represents the way they feel--or some combination of the two.

After Jane returns home, she becomes convinced that she will die tomorrow, a sign that this thing, this way of thinking, is a virus. By spending time with Amy, even while rejecting her ramblings, Jane has become infected, too.

She deals with it by deciding to attend the birthday party she had been thinking of skipping. She hops in her car, still clad in her pajamas, and heads over. She brings her death-talk to the party, which includes couple Tilly and Brian (Jennifer Kim and TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe) and her brother, Jason (Chris Messina), and his wife, birthday girl Susan (Katie Aselton, having a ball). Susan is convinced that Jane is the most self-centered person she has ever met, but her complete lack of compassion for an obviously troubled individual indicates that she may not have met many people.

Tunde Adebimpe as seen by DP Jay Keitel
At first the couples think Jane is trying to be funny, but then they don't know what to think. She explains that she doesn't want to be alone if she's going to die tomorrow. After the party, the participants all come to the same exact realization: they're going to die tomorrow. Each one will proceed to deal with it in a different way. And this is the point at which the horror premise, which was already spiked with comedy, shifts into a different, more enigmatic mode.

All the while, Seimetz flashes back to events from Amy's past with Craig (Kentucker Audley) that help to explain how she became the carrier of this thing with which she has infected everyone else. As the night continues, other characters (played by Adam Wingard, Michelle Rodriguez, Olivia Taylor Dudley, and James Benning) become ensnared in one way or another.  

If I didn't find She Dies Tomorrow frightening, that doesn't mean I don't think the film works--or that I don't like double negatives too much for my own good. Nor do I think it's wrong to classify it as horror. It may not have played that way for me, but it has for others, like Vulture's Bilge Ebiri, who has described it as "terrifying." Once I got over my surprise, I was able to more fully appreciate what Seimetz was trying to do. (For what it's worth, I also watched Natalie Erika James's Relic this week; for a more viscerally chilling experience, look no further). In the press notes, she explains that she was inspired by the way when you're feeling anxious, and you tell another person about it, you run the risk of making them anxious, too.

And that's what's stuck with me. Seimetz isn't exploring a virus that spreads through physical contact, as in David Robert Mitchell's It Follows, but through psychic contact. It's possible that Amy can see the future and that she's correctly predicted her imminent demise, but it's also possible that she's just paranoid. The open-ended ending suggests that the second option is just as bad--or just as fatal, at any rate--because you might be more likely to put yourself in harm's way if you're convinced you're going to die. Conversely, it suggests that there could be something calming in knowing when you're going to die instead of having death arrive when you least expect it. Having 24 hours or so to prepare for death may not sound like much of a deal, but compared to, say, 24 seconds, it's a pretty good one.



She Dies Tomorrow is currently playing at drive-in theaters. It opens on streaming platforms, including  iTunes and Google Play, on Fri, Aug 7. 

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Nothing Lasts Forever in Alan Moyle's Teen-Punk Fantasia Times Square

TIMES SQUARE
(Alan Moyle,* US, 1980, rated R, 111 mins) 

Times Square, Canadian filmmaker Alan Moyle's first American feature, opens to the lush, yet spooky strains of Roxy Music's "Same Old Scene," a sign that this won't be just another teensploitation film. Nothing cheap and tawdry, not with this band of British sophisticates leading the way. That's how 16-year-old Nicky (Robin Johnson) enters the picture, dragging her suitcase through the neon-saturated Times Square of yesteryear, passing mustached men smoking and making deals and sequin-covered club goers mingling outside a disco. "Nothing lasts forever," Bryan Ferry sings over anxious drums and searching saxophone, "of that I'm sure."

With her Brando cap, button-bedecked jacket, and electric guitar, it's clear Nicky wants to rock, and when she smashes a car headlight, it's clear she wants to make trouble. With her full lips and New Yawk accent, she plays like a cross between David Johansen and Joan Jett, who was just starting to make her mark as a solo artist (Johnson possibly took cues from Johansen when they recorded his song "Flowers in the City" for the soundtrack). When cops come to arrest her, Nicky unleashes a string of profanities.

Her opposite number, 13-year-old Pamela (Trini Alvarado, already a seasoned actress, unlike the untested Johnson), enters wearing a prim school uniform and a grimace as her father, David (Peter Coffield), a city commissioner, gives a speech about the evils of Times Square. Pamela is a closet rebel who tunes in regularly to listen to DJ Johnny LaGuardia (Tim Curry) who plays all the latest punk and art rock from England. It's not hard to see the appeal, since the Times Square soundtrack is simply one of the greatest soundtracks in the history of soundtracks, but more on that later.



In a letter she writes to Johnny, that he reads on the air, Pamela describes herself as a zombie. He encourages her to take a leap into the unknown. She meets Nicky when they end up sharing the same hospital room, since they're both seeking help for the seizures they've been experiencing (this plot point goes under-explored; it mostly exists to bring them together).

Pamela finds her rebellious roommate fascinating. Once they acclimate to each other, Nicky admits that she doesn't think she'll make it to 21. "That's why I gotta jam it all in now, y'know?" With the aid of a boombox and a Ramones cassette--"I wanna be sedated!"--she convinces Pamela to run away with her, so they steal an ambulance and end up at an abandoned train station overlooking the Hudson River. Considering their youth, this all unfolds more comfortably on screen than it would in real life.

Soon, they're stealing food, washing windshields, and even dancing for spare change. It doesn't seem too realistic that 13-year-old Pamela would get a job as a fully-clothed dancer at a Times Square strip club, but that's the sort of wish fulfillment-meets-gritty reality tone the film strikes. Writing about Times Square in 1981, Melbourne-based film critic Adrian Martin didn't find anything particularly punk or rebellious about it. As he notes in his review, "It is an antiseptic, middle class daydream." He's not completely wrong. It is a daydream, but why is that so bad? Two teenage girls aren't going to change the world, and they don't. What they change is themselves, and that can be pretty realistic--even if much of the rest of the film isn't.

On the one hand, the Times Square of 1979, when and where the film was shot, isn't cleaned up for the viewer's consumption, but Moyle isn't about to let these young ladies suffer the kind of indignities to which real runaways would likely be subjected. They're also presented as sexually ambiguous, which isn't so terrible, since they're 13 and 16, but it's not that simple. While they express no interest in men--or even boys, which the film completely, refreshingly ignores--and seem plenty interested in each other, nothing happens.

The lesbian subtext is impossible to miss, but it's just that: subtext. Because Moyle doesn't give either girl a male love interest, it's easy to imagine that one or both of them could be gay or bisexual. Nicky, especially, reads that way. It's also possible that they're just not interested in sex yet, and don't even know where they fall on the Kinsey scale. Why we expect underage movie characters to have all this stuff figured out when we don't--or shouldn't--expect the same from real-life kids is beyond me.

Furthermore, just when it seems as if Moyle is going to reveal that Pamela has a crush on Johnny or, worse yet, that Johnny is preparing to put the moves on her when he visits the station, he doesn't. Johnny seems to genuinely care about the girls, even if his character is otherwise a muddle, saved largely by Curry's larger-than-life charisma. I kept waiting for their hero to reveal feet of clay, but he's neither hero nor villain; he's mostly just a catalyst. He encourages them to rebel and capitalizes on their rebellion, but he also looks out for them in a way Pamela's judgmental father doesn't.

The main thing here is the unlikely friendship that develops between the girls. While that can include physical affection, particularly in a film that wasn't aimed at such a wide audience in such a homophobic time, it shouldn't have to. Unlike Martin, I believe it's rebellious that the teens aren't sex-crazed at all, which was the norm for films about teens-gone-wild, both then and now.

But that doesn't mean Times Square isn't romantic. Pamela writes poetry, and she encourages Nicky to write poetry, too. In Nicky's hands, they come out sounding like songs, and so she's soon singing at the same club where Pamela dances. When Pamela briefly joins her act, they dub themselves the Sleez Sisters, but just when it seems as if the movie is going to morph into another Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains, it doesn't. Nicky is the true musician, not Pamela. If the soundtrack features big-name artists, like the Pretenders ("Talk of the Town") and Talking Heads ("Cross-eyed and Painless"), Johnson's contributions, like "Damn Dog," fit in surprisingly well.

In the film, the ladies' favorite song is Suzi Quatro's anti-romantic glam-rock raver "Rock Hard" ("She never takes a chance / She doesn't need romance / She never takes a chance / She never dates or dance / Her love is rock hard / Rock hard / She's rock hard"). Johnson's voice is very much in Suzi's take-no-prisoners vein, so it's too bad her music career didn't advance much beyond this film, whereas 70-year-old Suzi is still going strong.

While Pamela and Nicky are having their adventures, David is trying to track her down. He's doing a lousy job of it, because she's pretty easy to find, and when Johnny invites the two on his radio show, she's pretty easy to hear, since they sing a song about how "Your Daughter is One," i.e. everything her father--or at least straight society--condemns. Johnny continues to broadcast their exploits to the world, presenting them as a punk-rock Bonnie & Clyde, a development that predicts Christian Slater's rebel DJ in Moyle's Pump up the Volume, which would see release 10 years later., by which time alt-rock had overtaken punk rock as the dominant college-radio mode.

By the end, Nicky and Pamela have figured themselves out, and the conclusion suggests they're going to forge very different paths in life. It's a happy ending of a kind, just not the kind where they end up together or go on to become music superstars, but they're better off than where they began. As Bryan Ferry forewarned at the outset, "Nothing lasts forever."

It isn't the most realistic story, and I'm not so sure that was the intent, but the friendship is what endures, and it's one of the reasons why people keep coming back to the film. That and the amazing soundtrack, of course.

*Alan Moyle would hereafter spell his first name with a double "l."



Kino Lorber will be releasing a new 4K restoration of Times Square on Blu-ray later this year (date TBA). See this space for more information!

Monday, June 29, 2020

Suzi Q Recounts the Rise of Suzi Quatro from Suburban Detroit Kid to Glam-Rock Superstar

SUZI Q 
(Liam Firmager, Australia, 2019, 98 minutes)

There's something fitting about the fact that the definitive portrait of rocker Suzi Quatro hails from an Australian director, Liam Firmager, backed by an Australian film company, Screen Victoria.

It's not that Suzi didn't make a mark in the United States, but as her friend, Cherie Currie (the Runaways), notes, she isn't as well known among today's youth as she should be--and nor did she have as many hits in the US as she did in Europe and Australia. I'm skeptical that one documentary is going to do much to reverse that course, but that should never stop a director from making a film about a deserving artist. Plus, there are plenty of people my age--people old enough to remember Happy Days (1974-1984) as a first-run series--who haven't made her acquaintance yet. And they really should.

Like Iggy Pop, Suzi grew up in suburban Michigan, specifically Grosse Pointe, and she still has the accent to prove it (Detroit-born Alice Cooper appears in the film, but Pop doesn't). She credits her jazz-playing father for her love of music and her devout Catholic mother for her moral values. She saw Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show when she was five, and that was it: she knew she wanted to be a musician. And it's precisely because she identified with a man, rather than a woman, that she would go on to craft an androgynous, leather-clad, bass-playing persona that hadn't been seen before.

She started by forming an all-girl band, the Pleasure Seekers, with her sister, Patti, and three others when she was 14. Things moved quickly. Because Suzi was tiny, she performed on a riser, so all eyes were on her. The first time she let out a yell, the crowd went wild. There would be more yells to come; it's one of her defining skills. The band got so many bookings that her parents let her drop out of school to perform full time. It didn't hurt that her brother, Michael, was an established promoter, and that the group was able to turn their regional success into a record deal with Mercury.

As good as they were, though, the (overwhelmingly male) sound emerging from Detroit and Ann Arbor by the late-1960s was moving in an increasingly heavy direction, and their success was short-lived, so they reinvented themselves as Cradle and switched out Suzi with Patti, but lightning didn't strike twice until Michael invited producer Mickie Most (the Animals, Donovan), who was working with Jeff Beck at Motown Studios, to see the band play. Suzi knew it was her shot, so she sang one of her songs—and ended up with a solo deal.

Wisely, Firmager lets both Suzi and Patti tell their sides of the story. Cradle kept going for a couple of years, and Patti later joined Fanny, but none of her sisters would become as successful (her niece, Sherilyn Fenn, would come close when she landed a role on Twin Peaks). Though Suzi, alone on her own for the first time, was sad and lonely when she first arrived in London, the resentment lingered. She was on her way, and they weren't.

Once she formed a band and started opening for glam-rock acts like Slade and Sweet, the American got a toehold in a very British scene, even though she didn't share their sartorial flamboyance. If she hadn't have been able to keep up, audiences would've been quick to let her know, but Suzi had the voice, the chops, and the stage presence (those high-flying kicks!). She also had a terrible puffball perm, which goes unmentioned in the film, but she seems to have figured out quickly that she'd be better off without it.

Granted, she didn't have any hits, but that changed when she joined forces with Australian-born Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, aka Chinnichap (Chapman, who appears in the film, notes that Chinn was the business guy; he actually did most of the writing). They wrote 1973 single "Can the Can" to emphasize her bass-playing. For her signature look, she decided on a black leather outfit, like '68 Comeback Elvis, and then she was ready for Top of the Pops. The performance was a smash, the song was a hit, and she became a star. Had Suzi stayed in the States, it's hard to say what would have happened. Like Hendrix (in tandem with manager Chas Chandler), London provided the star-making machinery best suited to her gifts.

As adeptly as Firmager supports Suzi's on-camera narration with a well-edited selection of archival materials, I was moved more by the testimonies of the women who took inspiration from her work, particularly Debbie Harry (Blondie), Lita Ford and Joan Jett (the Runaways), Tina Weymouth (Talking Heads), and Kathy Valentine (the Go-Go's). Tina and Kathy say they didn't even recognize their potential as musicians until Suzi came along.

Nonetheless, the UK press turned on her once she got big, their infamous modus operandi. Because she worked with male musicians, songwriters, and producers, she was dismissed as a male creation as if she had no say in the way she dressed or the material she performed. She also disavows the term feminist, which is unfortunate, but she's hardly unique in that regard. Multi-hyphenate Dolly Parton never embraced it either, but that doesn't mean their achievements didn't open doors for other women. They clearly did.



Suzi also failed to make as much of an impact in her home country as she did elsewhere. It wasn't for lack of trying. She went on tour with Alice Cooper and made the requisite round of radio station appearances, but she didn't get airplay and she didn't sell records. All told, she's sold 55 million records, so there's no need to cry for Suzi Quatro, but most of those sales came from outside of the States. It's understandable that a woman who doesn't describe herself as a feminist wouldn't blame sexism, but I believe that's part of it. Debbie Harry and band mate Clem Burke claim that she was ahead of her time, which is more or less the same thing (Suzi's influence would lead Blondie to work with Mike Chapman on 1978's Parallel Lines).

Then, she lost her US deal, but again, it was hardly a tragedy, because she landed a three-year gig on Happy Days as Leather Tuscadero. It may not have been how she planned to conquer America, but it did the trick. She reunited with Chapman, and finally enjoyed some US chart success, though ironically, "Stumblin' In," a duet with Chris Norman, doesn't rock as hard as her previous singles. It's basically a power ballad, and there's no shame in that, but those sorts of things were a dime a dozen in the 1970s, while her signature hits weren't. Less surprisingly, it barely dented the UK charts.

Once again, though, her US success was short-lived. Despite their fractious relationship, Chinn and Chapman formed a label, Dreamland Records, signed Suzi as their first artist, released 1980's Rock Hard, placed the title track on the soundtrack to Allan Moyle's teen-punk fantasia Times Square, and…watched it wither on the American vine, due in part to distribution problems, and the label folded shortly afterward (on the plus side, Kino Lorber will be releasing a restored 4K version of Times Square later this year).

Joan Jett, meanwhile, would pick up where Quatro left off, and started to have the US hits she didn't. Her devotion to a similar leather-clad, bubble gum-punk aesthetic was so complete that she covered a song, the Arrows' immortal "I Love Rock 'n Roll," that had originally been produced by Quatro's mentor Mickie Most. As a fan of both women, I'm not about to take sides; the two freely admit that Suzi paved the way.

Firmager also looks at Suzi's life as a wife and mother, television guest star, musical theater performer, radio show host, poet, and novelist. For a woman who doesn't identify as feminist, it describes most everything she did. As times changed, she changed with them. Len wanted everything to stay the same, and their marriage came to an inevitable end (though Suzi would remarry, her second husband, Rainer, doesn't appear in the film).

If Suzi Q isn't about sisterhood in the colloquial sense, it's a film about sisterhood in the literal sense as she and her sisters continue to enjoy and endure a relationship marked by affection…and the kind of resentment that never really goes away. As she points out: one doesn't preclude the other.

All told, it's a good, solid documentary that lacks any shocking revelations or tear-stained redemption arcs, and that's kind of refreshing, really. Suzi Quatro's stock in trade was that she was an ordinary suburban kid who just wanted to rock, like millions of men before her--and millions of men and women since. If Firmager isn't able to accurately pinpoint the source of her hyper-relentless drive, beyond the fact that she didn't want to end up working in an automobile factory, maybe some things don't need to be explained, because talent, in and of itself, is never enough. Quatro did the right things at the right time with the right people--and lived to tell the tale.



Suzi Q premieres on VOD, DVD, and Blu-ray on July 3. On July 1, Cherie Currie and Kathy Valentine will interview Suzi Quatro for a Q&A after the virtual preview screening. A portion of the proceeds will support the Recording Academy's MusiCares in their efforts to provide COVID relief funds for musicians in need. Click here for more information and tickets.