19 July 2014

DVD Review - Times Square (1980)


Genre:
Drama, Music
Distributor:
Network
BD Release Date:
14th July 2014 (UK)
Rating:15
Running Time:107 Minutes
Director:
Allan Moyle
Cast:
Robin Johnson, Trini Alvarado, Tim Curry
Buy:Times Square (1980) DVD


Times Square was one of the first films by Canadian filmmaker Allan Moyle in 1980. It was produced by the same guy who did Saturday Night Fever who thought he had a “Punk Saturday Night Fever” but in reality he had a very different beast on his hands.

It’s the tale of these 2 girls, Nicky (Robin Johnson) and Pamela (Trini Alvarado), from New York City who come from a different side of the tracks. They meet after they are both admitted to a Neurological hospital to be treated for mental illness. They bond; Nicky is a streetwise punk rock kid and Pamela feels misunderstood as the daughter of a wealthy man who is trying to clean up “the filth” of Times Square. They escape the hospital and run away together and eventually start a punk rock band called The Sleez Sisters. Tim Curry also appears as a Radio DJ who supports the Sleez Sisters after he finds out Pamela is the “Zombie Girl” who writes into the show.

The film’s genesis is fascinating; Allan Moyle found a diary of a mentally disturbed woman in a second hand sofa he bought which inspired him to write the treatment. It caught the attention of producer Robert Stigwood who was the man behind Grease and Saturday Night Fever. Stigwood took control of the film after he didn’t like the gritty approach Moyle took with it and the lesbian content between the 2 girls, which was ultimately removed from the film. Despite this, Times Square still has a quite obvious lesbian subtext, but originally the two young girls were explicitly lesbians. Moyle eventually left the project near the end of filming, but over the years has warmed to the film and admits it’s a good document of Times Square that isn’t around anymore.

The film is a mess to say the least and the pacing is off but it remains one of the best punk films of it's time. Both of the young actresses are fantastic and Robin Johnson should have been a star; they tried to market her as “the female John Travolta” and it’s not hard to see why. The film is grittier than many “teen films” and the on location photography is excellent. Moyle would later direct the fantastic Pump Up the Volume, which has similar themes of teen rebellion and the neglecting of society’s norms and the later along with the silly but fun Empire Records.

The punk and new wave soundtrack is excellent with classic cuts from Talking Heads, Ramones, Patti Smith, XTC, The Cure, Lou Reed and Gary Numan. There are some songs that were obviously added to the film after Moyle left, particularly the cheesy disco. It’s been long rumoured that David Bowie re-recorded “Life on Mars?” for the soundtrack, but it’s not in the film and he performed a new wave inflected version on the Johnny Carson show which puts fuel in the rumour. However, the rumour goes that his label RCA blocked its inclusion on the soundtrack, but Desmond Child says he collaborated with Bowie on a version of the song “The Night Was Not” which is included on the soundtrack but performed by Desmond Child’s band so it remains a mystery.

The film has become a minor cult classic in the years since its small release. It found its audience on VHS like the similar Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains. It was an influence on the band Manic Street Preachers who covered one of the songs performed by Sleez Sisters, and on the Riot Grrl movement of the 1990s. It was also long out of print on DVD and VHS which makes Network’s re-release all the more important so they can preserve this fascinating film.

★★★★½

Ian Schultz


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