Thursday, October 31, 2013

Suburbia (Penelope Spheeris, 1983)

Wild dogs tearing apart toddlers, shirtless skinheads sexually assaulting chic new wavers while Casey Royer looks on with a snotty brand of indifference, what has the world come to? Just kidding, I don't give a shit. Don't get me wrong, I think tearing apart toddlers and humiliating new wavers is wrong, I just don't care about the state of the world. Wait a minute, where have I heard this tone before? Oh, I know, you're trying to get in touch with your inner punk, aren't you? Yeah, so what if I am, you bleeding tosser! Ooh, "bleeding tosser," I like that. You blithering git! Even better. Fuck the world and the giant donkey dick you rode in on, 'cause I'm about to review Penelope Spheeris's Suburbia, the punkiest punk movie that ever punked its way through the spunk stained drapes that is my punk-addled subconscious. It's that punk, eh? You better fucking believe it is. Since I'm the one typing words about about this movie, I guess it's okay if I share a few punk-related anecdotes about my days as a punk-adjacent juvenile delinquent. What the hell does "punk-adjacent" mean? You know, a common vertex? Let me put it this way, I wasn't a punk, but I occasionally found myself next to punks, and inevitably some of their punkiness would rub off on me. Not so much that I started listening to The Exploited and wearing suspenders on my trousers for no reason, but enough to understand the ethos. I recall spending an entire day with a group of punks; I knew one of them, so they tolerated my presence. And there's a scene midway through this film where T.R. (The Rejected) march down the sidewalk of a suburban street in slow motion that reminded me of my day with the punks. I distinctly recall the looks on horror on the faces of the so-called "normal people" as we walked by like it was yesterday; remember, this was long before wannabe chefs on reality cooking shows had spiderweb neck tattoos and celebrity babies had mohawks.


When word got back to me that one of the punks, an oily sycophant in desperate need of a bath, didn't think I should hang out with them (something to do with the fact that I didn't have the right "look"), I was actually glad, as I've always had a deep disdain for groups of people who insist on dressing alike. Whether it be Nazis, punks, or Nazi punks, I shall reject fashion conformity whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head.


The punks in this film, however, didn't have that problem, as each seemed to bring their own unique look to the fashion table. For example, I thought their de facto leader Jack Diddley (Chris "I never thought I'd get hit" Pederson) had a ska-punk, proto-industrial tinge to his look (he wouldn't look out of place at a Selector concert or a Front 242 gig). While Skinner (Timothy O'Brien), the muscle of T.R., is rocking the skinhead look, and Joe Schmo (Wade Walston), the romantic member of T.R., is sporting a goth punk--I secretly like The Cure--ensemble.


Even though I already stated that "T.R." stands for "The Rejected," I should mention that T.R. is the name of a gang of street kids, and that the film is basically about some of T.R.'s newest recruits. A teenage runaway named Sheila (Jennifer Clay), who witnesses a toddler torn to shreds by a wild dog while hitchhiking, Evan (Bill Coyne), who is later joined by his younger brother Ethan (Andrew Pece), flees his alcoholic mother, and Joe Schmo (Wade Walston), who doesn't like the fact that his father lives with his boyfriend. These three, I mean, four, shack up with a ragtag group of their fellow teens who are squatting in an abandoned house off the 605 in Los Angeles, California. I have to say, Joe Schmo's reason for running away is pretty weak. I mean, so your dad is gay. Big deal!


Anyway, despite Joe Schmo's homophobia, which, I suppose, was accurate given the period and his age, I liked how Evan winds up with T.R. Alone in L.A., Evan spots a group of punk rockers walking down the street. Intrinsically drawn to them, Evan follows them to a punk show where Keef (Grant Miner), who, judging by his armband, is a member of T.R., slips a black triangle (his drug of choice) in his drink when he's not looking. One thing leads to another, and Jack Diddley is helping a passed out Evan into his car.


During the concert, which features a band called D.I., Skinner, the lone skinhead in T.R., rips the dress off this poor new wave-ish woman, which causes a crowd gather around her. The sight of all these vulgarians taunting her with her torn clothing as she cried for help was sickening. It's true, I was eventually able to get past this scene, but the fact Skinner was the main culprit left a bad taste in my mouth.


On a more positive note, the concert scene introduces us to T'resa (Christina Beck) and Mattie (Maggie Ehrig), my absolute favourite characters in the Suburbia universe.


Never seen apart once throughout the film, I loved how T'resa and Mattie were always together no matter what. In fact, guess what? What? Chicken butt! I'm officially declaring T'resa and Mattie's friendship to be the most adorable thing ever. Um, ever?!? Don't you think that's a little too much? Okay, how 'bout this, T'resa and Mattie friendship is the most adorable thing in this movie. That sounds more realistic. But T'resa and Mattie better watch their adorable backs. Why's that? Oh, I don't know, have you ever seen Evan's little brother sitting on a Big Wheel? Yeah, so? Lots of kids sit on big wheels. Do these "lots of kids" you speak of have mohawks? Damn, I don't even have to see a picture of that to know that's pretty freaking adorable.


All right let's change the wording, shall we? Little Ethan with a mohawk is adorable, there's no doubt about it. On the other hand, T'resa and Mattie are now officially the sexiest characters in the Suburbia universe. If that's true, then why weren't any of the punk guys–I'm looking in your general direction, Flea–constantly hitting on them? What's that? Maybe they're lesbians. I don't think so. Check out the scene where hey rush the stage and shower T.S.O.L.'s Jack Grisham with kisses, they exude uncut heterosexuality from every orifice. I guess they were just intimidated by their hotness. And besides, Flea is already in a relationship...with his pet rat. Eww.


If you want to stay at the T.R. house, a cockroach infested, graffiti-covered dump that strangely enough still has electricity, you need to get a "burn," which involves burning the letters T.R. into your flesh. Once you get a burn, you can sit around the house, watch TV, listen to T'resa and Mattie do the whole "Guess what?" "Chicken butt!" joke over and over again (I told you they were adorable) and wake up to the sound of gun-totting reactionaries shooting wild dogs.


These "reactionaries" are the punk's primary nemesis, and end up causing them a shitload of grief over the course of the film. Standing in-between the two groups, the reactionaries on the one side and the T.R. punks on the other, is William Rennard (Donald V. Allen), a police officer who just happens to be Jack's stepfather. Don't tell me the reason Jack doesn't want to live at home is because his step dad is black. If that's the case, I'm giving up on these people.


After a run in with a couple of  reactionaries outside a T.S.O.L. concert, T.R. become the focus of "Citizens Against Crime," a community action group made up of massive squares, puritan pukes, drunk housewives and frustrated child molesters.


It's not all tragedy and slam dancing, the film does have a few moments of levity here and there. And the one that stands out the most is when T.R. steal sod (chunks of grass) from the front lawn of some house, transport it to the mall, lay it out front of the mall's Radio Shack, sit on it, and proceed to watch television.


I wonder if Christina Beck and Maggie Ehrig still have the scarfs they wear in their hair throughout this film. Actually, I wonder if I'm the first person ever to wonder this. Actually, forget about the scarfs, I wonder if Christina Beck and Maggie Ehrig are still friends. It would be totally awesome if they were.


Despite the repugnant scene involving the new wave chick being humiliated at a D.I. concert (it goes on for excessively long period of time), I'm declaring Suburbia to be fun-filled romp. Just kidding, I found Suburbia to be a gritty, authentic look at the punk subculture of the early 1980s. Using amateur actors and real locations, Penelope Spheeris creates a filthy, depressing world that doesn't shirk from showing us the consequences that can arise when you put a bunch of teenage runaways under one roof and surround that roof with packs of ravenous wild dogs and cars filled with trigger happy reactionaries.


4 comments:

  1. I love this review and movie and maybe even you.

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  2. Been there knew a few of them went to school with DI and so on and so forth... Good review. I was waiting to get pissed off as I often do at the rather uneducated judgmental reviews I often read. I lived it and I was here when this was released and I can attest to the accuracy, although amateur at times (which I like personally). Thanks! Oh and Flea was only known as 'Rat Boy' to me in those days as that rat was with him 24/7.

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    Replies
    1. I grew up in El Monte. I remember the houses there in Downey and Pico Rivera. Lots of stories came out of there.

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  3. Wanna know some funny trivia regarding T'resa and Mattie (Christina and Maggie)...they were also seen together in an episode of the 80's tv show Hunter, in an episode called "The Snow Queen" part 2. They were sitting next to each other on a bench and I thought they looked familiar. Sure enough, it was the girls from Suburbia! How's that for adorable?! LOL. They're only seen for a couple seconds though. The particular scene they were in had other punks/New wavers in it as well. You can probably watch it on YouTube.

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