Smithereens (film)

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Smithereens
DVD cover of Smithereens.jpg
DVD cover
Directed by Susan Seidelman
Produced by Joanne Gross
Susan Seidelman
Written by Peter Askin
Ron Nyswaner
Susan Seidelman
Starring Susan Berman
Cinematography Chirine El Khadem
Edited by Susan Seidelman
Release date
  • September 11, 1982 (1982-09-11)
Running time
89 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Smithereens is a 1982 film directed by Susan Seidelman and starring Susan Berman, Brad Rinn, and punk rock icon Richard Hell. The film follows a narcissistic young woman from New Jersey who comes to New York City to join the punk subculture, only to find that it's gravitated towards Los Angeles; in order to pay her way across country, she engages in a number of parasitic relationships, shifting her allegiances to new "friends" in an ongoing effort to ultimately endear herself to someone who will finance her desired lifestyle.

Smithereens marked the debut of Oscar-nominated screenwriter Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia) and features a score by The Feelies. It was the first American independent film invited to compete for the Palme d'Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.[1] Smithereens is a precursor to Seidelman's next film Desperately Seeking Susan and both films share similar themes of female identity and self-reinvention.

Plot[edit]

Wren (Susan Berman) is a runaway from New Jersey who has come to New York City in the hopes of becoming a figure in the punk rock scene, only to find that the movement is now centered in Los Angeles. Wren finds herself relegated to sneaking into the city's remaining punk hot spot, the Peppermint Lounge, to try to ingratiate herself with the bands that play there, in the hopes that one of them will take her on as a groupie. She also engages in a campaign to litter the city with photocopied pictures of herself bearing the legend "WHO IS THIS?" in an attempt to generate mystique. Though she works part-time at a xerox shop by day, Wren nominally uses her position there to surreptitiously print out her fliers, and supplements her lifestyle by mugging women in the subway.

Wren runs across Paul (Brad Rijn), a young man from Montana in the middle of a road trip who has briefly taken up residence in the city before heading on to New England. Though he sleeps in the back of his dilapidated van, Paul has saved enough money to otherwise live comfortably. When Paul expresses interest in Wren, she agrees to date him, though she’s emotionally abusive and makes it clear to Paul that she’s more interested in the stability he can offer her.

Out on a date, the couple meet Eric (Richard Hell), former member of Smithereens, a one-hit-wonder punk group from the 1970s. Though he's now unemployed and living in the apartment of another punk named Billy (Roger Jett), Eric professes to be putting together a new group that will soon be headed to Los Angeles. Wren leaves Paul to move in with Eric, though she’s forced out after a confrontation with a nameless blonde woman (Kitty Summerall) who also lives in the apartment.

Returning to her own apartment, Wren discovers that her roommates have fled in her absence and that her landlady has locked her out. Wren visits her brother and sister-in-law in an attempt to get a loan, but they decline on the grounds that Wren has cheated them in the past. With nowhere else to go, Wren goes back to Paul and guilts him into helping her break into her old apartment to retrieve her things. The two resume an uneasy relationship, with Paul allowing Wren to sleep in the back of his van at night.

Eric finds Wren and tells her that they are set to go to Los Angeles, but that they need money to afford transportation and food en route. With Wren’s help, Eric robs a wealthy man at gunpoint after trapping him in a taxi. Finding that they've made enough money to go to LA, Eric sends Wren to collect her things from Paul's van. Returning to Eric's apartment, Wren learns from Billy that Eric has taken all of their money and gone to LA by himself. Confronting the nameless blonde woman in the stairwell, Wren learns that she is Eric's wife and that he has a history of picking up vulnerable women to exploit for his own financial gain. Attempting to reunite with Paul, Wren learns that he sold his van to a local pimp and used the money to continue his road trip. Looking inside the van, Wren discovers that Paul left behind a watercolor portrait he'd done of her.

Now homeless, Wren wanders the city until she's propositioned by a man in a convertible. Though she initially brushes off the man's advances, his admonishment that she has nowhere else to go causes her to stop and turn back towards his car.

Cast[edit]

Trivia[edit]

This film was the first American independent films to be selected for Competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Lead actress Susan Berman had no prior experience acting in a film. She was picked out of a theater crowd of an off-Broadway play by director Susan Seidelman to be in this film. In the words of Berman, "The only ones in the crowd were friends of the actors, or someone who knew someone who was involved. After the performance, these two people walked up to me and offered me a role in a feature length movie." For preparation, director Susan Seidelman told her actress Susan Berman to see the Federico Fellini film Nights of Cabiria before beginning to research her role. Seidelman used friends from her days as a student at NYU as a crew.

Reception[edit]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times said of the film, "Smithereens gets off to a fast start, thanks to Susan Berman's feisty performance and the vitality with which her story is told." and "Although willful inactivity seems a crucial part of the characters' way of life, it's carried too far; everyone here stays put a little longer than is believable, particularly Paul, who remains parked by the highway for what feels like weeks, with nothing to do but wait for Wren to appear."

Dave Kehr of the Chicago Reader said, "Wren, in her self-delusion, manipulativeness, and superficiality, easily ranks as one of the most obnoxious characters in film history, and she exerts a strange fascination."

Film critic Emanuel Levy said, "Susan Seidelman's feature debut, the first American indie to be shown at the Cannes Film Festival, put New York's East Village sensibility onscreen by examining issues of identity, desire and self-fulfillment from a distinctly female perspective."

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Smithereens". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  2. ^ Mallory Curley, A Cookie Mueller Encyclopedia, Randy Press, 2010.
  3. ^ IMDB.COM
  4. ^ IMDB.COM

External links[edit]