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Askew Review 15

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(Blue Underground) DVD.  Eccentric Comedy.  93 Minutes.  Rated R. Language. I watched this sucka twice, spacing my viewings about three months apart.   I’m glad I saw this again, because while I thought this film was decent the first time, I really appreciated it more the second go-round.  Smithereens is the story of Wren (fuckin’ brilliantly portrayed by Susan Berman), a self-promoting, cute young Jersey girl who wants nothing more than to somehow fit into the burgeoning East Village music scene of the early ‘80s.  It’s a world where everyone is broke and desperate in one way or another to “make it,” or to at least look the part.  Sometimes Wren lives in a van with Paul, a sensitive dummy played by Brad Rinn and who sort of reminds me of an unfunny version of the Woody character on Cheers.  But it’s clear she’d much rather be movin’ and shakin’ with Eric, a down on his luck musician perpetually trying to make a comeback (Eric is loosely yet at times woodenly brought to life by early punk icon Richard Hell).  Eric turns out to be a complete cad and ends up screwing Wren over much in the way she jerks Paul around.  The end is fairly bleak, but the oddball, immediate nature of the film really sort of makes that easy to take.
      Smithereens was the first American indie film ever to be invited to compete for the Golden Palm Award at Cannes.  The opening sequence rules as Wren rips off a lady’s sunglasses and then tears away into the subway.  All the while the first of some great songs by the Feelies sets a decidedly gritty tone.  Filmmaker Susan Seidelman, who went on to direct Desperately Seeking Susan and episodes of Sex And The City, did a fantastic job of catching this unique New York moment in time. Everybody seems sort of unwashed, completely broke and mostly living in squalor, yet they all appear to be so optimistic that things are going to get better for them.  It’s the kind of thing that I bet people living in the East Village back then would actually look back on now with fondness.  A decade after Smithereens was filmed, I was living in a similar situation in Boston.  Despite the fact that I was secretly squatting in my apartment and so minus funds that I was plotting ways to steal empty kegs off people’s back porches for the deposit money, when I remember that time I realize that I’ve probably rarely felt so alive since then.  And this sort of vibrancy is what I think I like best about this movie.
     Extras are pretty basic, highlighted by fairly interesting interviews with Susan Berman (still looks quite good) and a mellow Richard Hell about the making of the film.  There’s also an audio director’s commentary from Seidelman, the theatrical trailer and a poster/stills gallery. –Ben Hunter



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