Times Square (film)
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Times Square DVD cover
|Directed by||Allan Moyle|
|Produced by||Jacob Brackman
Kevin McCormick (Executive Producer)
|Written by||Jacob Brackman (screenplay)
Allan Moyle (story)
Leanne Ungar (story)
|Music by||Blue Weaver|
|Cinematography||James A. Contner|
Robert Stigwood Organisation
|Distributed by||Associated Film Distribution|
|Running time||111 min.|
|Box office||$1.4 million|
Times Square is a 1980 film starring Trini Alvarado, Robin Johnson, and Tim Curry. The film is about two teenage runaways from opposite sides of the track, living in New York City. The plot of the film embodies a punk rock ethic - misunderstood youth forming a band and, through music, articulating their frustrations toward adult authority (personified in the film as parents, the medical establishment, and politicians). In terms of themes and plot (and the importance of a radio station to the latter), Times Square can be seen as a precursor to director Allan Moyle's later film Pump Up the Volume (1990).
Nicky Marotta (Robin Johnson) and Pamela Pearl (Trini Alvarado) are two teenage girls who meet in the New York Neurological Hospital, where they are both being examined for mental illness. Pamela feels lonely and misunderstood, and is neglected and exploited by her father, a prominent and wealthy environmental commissioner running a campaign to "clean up" Times Square. Nicky is a tough-talking street kid with musical aspirations, sent to the hospital for an evaluation after an altercation with the police. Sharing a room, the frank Nicky and the shy Pamela become friends; Nicky tells Pamela that she stages seizures to keep out of juvenile detention. Nicky admires Pamela's poetic spirit; Pamela admires Nicky's forthright attitude, and resents the condescending way in which the doctors treat her. Nicky tells Pamela not to take her meds as they "take your fight away." She also reads a poem that Pamela wrote about her: "Your ribs are my ladder, Nicky/I'm so amazed, I'm so amazed." Nicky is released from the hospital, and later returns, ostensibly for an appointment for her social worker, but really to break Pamela out. Both girls escape from the hospital, steal an ambulance, and hide out in an abandoned dockside warehouse by the Hudson River. Pamela tells Nicky, "Everything you do, or you say, is poetry. At least, I think so." The girls seal their devotion to each other with a blood oath and make a pact to scream out each other's names in times of trouble.
There is a city-wide search for Pamela, after her father reports her as missing and accuses Nicky of kidnapping her. Nicky and Pamela try to eke out a living by engaging in card games, petty larceny, and odd jobs. Using discarded furniture and lines, Nicky and Pamela deck out their warehouse hideout, making it a bohemian-style apartment, and craft costumes for themselves. Meanwhile, late-night radio station disc jockey Johnny LaGuardia (Tim Curry), who broadcasts from a penthouse studio overlooking Times Square, realizes that Mr. Pearl's missing daughter is the same "Zombie Girl" who sent him letters, telling him how sad and lonely she feels. LaGuardia, who resents Mr. Pearl's "Reclaim Rebuild Restore" campaign to redevelop and gentrify Times Square, uses his radio station, WJAD, to reach out to Nicky and Pamela; he reads out Pamela's poetry over the air.
Nicky and Pamela write songs together and form an underground punk rock band, The Sleez Sisters, with the help of LaGuardia, who sees Nicky and Pamela as a symbol of youthful rebellion and an opportunity to undermine Pamela's father. The Sleez Sisters become a hit with the city's disillusioned youth after broadcasting their volatile punk rock songs and speeches on WJAD. Nicky and Pamela encourage their fans to throw TV sets off apartment rooftops; they also send messages to the doctors who treated them, and to Pamela's father, through their songs. Pamela tells her father through WJAD, "Dear Daddy, I am not kidnapped. I am me-napped, I am soul-napped, I am Nicky-napped, I am happy-napped. We are having our own renaissance." She also says, "You want to make Times Square as cold as your icy eye? Why do you want to punish people who aren't like you? You know, at home, I've heard you use the following words: spic, faggot, nigger, psycho. Well, I just want you to know, your daughter is one."
Mr. Pearl responds by issuing a press release, stating that Pamela is ill and requires medication, and that Nicky is unstable and dangerous. Pamela and Nicky subsequently have a falling out when they realize that their lives are on divergent paths. Pamela is content with her newfound sense of identity, and wants to return home, telling Nicky, "I can't be like you. You’re different. You’re a star!" Nicky wants to continue with the Sleez Sisters, telling Pamela, "You can't disappear if you're famous!" Nicky becomes jealous of Pamela's relationship with LaGuardia. She accuses LaGuardia of exploiting Pamela and herself, and throws Pamela and LaGuardia out of the warehouse hideout.
Nicky has a breakdown, wrecking her home and destroying the journal she shared with Pamela. After a failed attempt to drown herself, Nicky drunkenly breaks into WJAD and demands that LaGuardia put her on the air. Midway through her song, Nicky breaks down and asks Pamela for help: "My heart/It's pumpin'/My foot/It's runnin'/My head/It's hurtin'/It's hurtin' me/I never told you/Everything/I never said the stuff I should/I was chicken to tell you/I never thought I could/Find me/Help me/Save me/Can you hear me?/Can you feel me out there?/Pammy! I'm callin' you, Pammy! Pammy!" Pamela rescues Nicky, and takes her to her father's office in the middle of Times Square. Pamela calls all the local radio stations, announcing an impromptu, and illegal, midnight show in Times Square, on the rooftop of a 42nd Street Grindhouse. A message is sent out to the fans of the Sleez Sisters, inviting them to attend the concert. Nicky says, "If they treat you like garbage, put on a garbage bag. If they treat you like a bandit, black out your eyes!" Girls across the city create their own versions of the Sleez Sister uniform in response to the announcement, and board buses and subways to converge in Times Square.
In her signature garbage-bag costume and bandit-mask-style make-up, Nicky sings on the marquee roof above a crowd of cheering fans. Nicky shouts to the crowd, "They might be able to blow me away, but they can't blow all you away!" With the police approaching from behind, Nicky jumps off the edge of the marquee and into a blanket held taut by a group of fans. Camouflaged in the crowd, Nicky manages to evade capture by the police. Pamela watches her friend vanish into the night.
Times Square was directed by Allan Moyle from a script written by Jacob Brackman, based on a story by Moyle and Leanne Ungar. The movie was inspired by a diary, found in a second-hand couch bought by Moyle, detailing the life on the streets of a young mentally disturbed woman. According to the DVD commentary, the original title of the project was "She's Got the Shakes." The script caught the attention of Robert Stigwood, the impresario behind the musical films Saturday Night Fever (1977), Grease (1978), and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978). The film went into production with a $6 million budget, and was advertised with the taglines "In the heart of Times Square, a poor girl becomes famous, a rich girl becomes courageous, and both become friends" and "TIMES SQUARE is the music of the streets." Although Tim Curry has a supporting role in Times Square (and filmed all his scenes in two days), his familiarity with film audiences ensured that he received top-billing onscreen and in the film's advertising above the two unknown leads, 15-year-old Robin Johnson and 13-year-old Trini Alvarado. Robin Johnson's casting was a bit of a fluke. According to Robin, she was cutting class – cutting up – and had been approached by some supposed talent scout, claiming she should audition for the film. She had have never seen or heard from this man after the one meeting and no one from the film crew knew of him.
The original cut of Times Square contained lesbian content which was mostly deleted from the final print (which still has subtle lesbian overtones). Moyle revealed in the DVD audio commentary that the film's integrity was compromised by the removal of the more overt lesbian content, and the addition of several "inappropriate" songs to the film's soundtrack at the insistence of producer Robert Stigwood, who wanted the film to be another Saturday Night Fever and insisted that the soundtrack be a double album to make the film more commercially viable. Allan Moyle and Robin Johnson remarked on the audio commentary that the loss of key scenes made the narrative disjointed, and damaged the story's emotion and characterizations. They also note that the film's focus changes, jarringly, from Pamela to Nicky, and that the increasingly outlandish and unrealistic story undermines the movie's gritty, on-location documentary style. Moyle left production before the film was completed, and other people supervised scenes to accompany the soundtrack additions (for example, the sequence featuring teens preparing to go to the Sleez Sisters' final concert was shot by the film's second unit).
The version of the film released to theatres was not Moyle's preferred cut; however, he still acknowledges the finished film's importance as it documents a Times Square that mostly no longer exists: the film was shot on location and captured Times Square's seedy, grindhouse atmosphere before it was cleaned up in the mid-1990s.
Upon its original theatrical release, Times Square was not a commercial or critical success. Reviewing the film, Roger Ebert wrote, "Times Square rarely comes together into anything more than a good idea that fails, but there are times when it seems on the brink of wonderful things. Of all the bad movies I've seen recently, this is the one that projects the real sense of a missed opportunity - of potential achievement gone wrong. The problem may be with the screenplay. This is a movie that knows who its characters are, but doesn't seem sure about what they're doing." Other reviews of the film were generally negative, although Robin Johnson's performance was frequently singled out for praise. Johnson, in fact, signed an exclusive three-year contract with the Robert Stigwood Organization, with the understanding that RSO would develop film and music projects for her. RSO intended to market Johnson as "the female John Travolta," and her contract legally barred her from accepting offers or auditions from rival companies. Johnson therefore turned down calls from agents, producers and casting directors, but the projects RSO promised her never came to fruition. Johnson took a job as a bank teller whilst waiting for her RSO contract to expire, and by the time it did, there were no offers for work. Johnson did some minor film and TV roles, but by the late 1980s, she gave up on acting and got a job as a traffic reporter on a Los Angeles radio station.
Over the years since its original release, Times Square has been rediscovered and become a cult classic and a staple at gay and lesbian film festivals, because of the aforementioned, subtly-portrayed lesbian relationship between the film's two female leads. Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigre cites this[where?] as one of her favorite films. Welsh rock group Manic Street Preachers covered the Times Square song "Damn Dog" on their debut album Generation Terrorists (1992) and quoted dialogue from the film in the album liner notes ("Damn Dog" was, however, excluded from the American release of the album). The Manics also named their song "Roses in the Hospital" (from their second album, 1993's Gold Against the Soul) after Pamela's line, "What about the roses in the hospital?" (alluding to the scene in which Nicky eats roses to distract Pamela from the doctors and her father). In concerts and publicity shots in 1993, Manics bassist Nicky Wire often wore bankrobber-mask-style makeup, as Nicky Marotta does in the film.
The movie was released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment in 2000. Extra features on this DVD include audio commentary by director/co-writer Allan Moyle and star Robin Johnson, and the film's original theatrical trailer. Allan Moyle has stated that a director's cut of Times Square is unlikely to ever surface because the footage needed for its restoration is missing.
The movie's release was accompanied by a double album soundtrack of punk rock and New Wave music. The soundtrack comprises pre-existing songs as well as original songs commissioned for the film, and features a wide range of artists including The Ramones, The Cure, XTC, Lou Reed, Gary Numan, Talking Heads, Garland Jeffreys, Joe Jackson, Suzi Quatro, Roxy Music, Patti Smith and The Pretenders.
The Suzi Quatro track, "Rock Hard," is identified in the film as being Nicky and Pamela's favorite record. The disco song "Help Me!", which plays over the film's closing scene, is a duet between Robin Gibb (of The Bee Gees) and Marcy Levy, and was one of the songs added to the film without the consent of Allan Moyle. The song "Down in the Park" is credited as being performed by Gary Numan although, technically, it was recorded when Numan was using the band name Tubeway Army. The version of "Down in the Park" included on the Times Square soundtrack is not the album/single version from Replicas (1979), but an earlier version of the song that would later be released on Numan's Replicas Redux (2008).
The soundtrack also features original songs sung by the film's actors, "Damn Dog" by Johnson, "Your Daughter is One" by Johnson and Alvarado, and "Flowers of the City" by Johnson and David Johansen. The song "Dangerous Type" by The Cars features in the film, but was not included on the soundtrack.
As a compilation of some of the most important New Wave and punk music from the era, the Times Square soundtrack achieved far more notoriety than the film did on its release. It also became a collectors' item among fans of XTC, because it included the specially-written XTC track "Take This Town", which for many years was only available on this soundtrack.
In his audio commentary for the Times Square DVD, Allan Moyle mentions that David Bowie was commissioned to provide a song for the movie's soundtrack, but Bowie's label at that time wouldn't let the filmmakers use it. (At the time, Bowie was still under contract with RCA Victor Records, and the Times Square album was issued by RSO Records, at the time distributed by RCA Victor competitor PolyGram; however, it's notable that Lou Reed, who does appear on the album, was also under contract to RCA Victor.) Desmond Child has mentioned in a magazine interview that he collaborated with David Bowie on the song "The Night Was Not" (the song did appear on the Times Square soundtrack, performed by Child's band, Desmond Child & Rouge). Another rumour is that Bowie intended to provide a re-recorded version of his 1971 song "Life on Mars?" for the Times Square soundtrack. Although it has not been confirmed whether or not Bowie re-recorded a studio version of "Life on Mars?" in 1980, it is worth noting that in that same year, Bowie performed a rearranged, punkier version of the song during a live appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
- imdb, Kevin McCormick
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