Thursday, October 14, 2010

Times Square or What Has The Studio Done to Your Daughters?

"No sense makes sense" - Aggy Doom of The Sleez Sisters

John Waters once said that there's no explaining the 60's to someone who didn't live through it. I think the same can be said for the late 70's cultural battle between disco and punk. On one side, you had the sparkly disco-ness of The Bee Gees, Donna Summer and KC & The Sunshine Band, on the other side, the urban grittiness of The Ramones, Patti Smith and Lou Reed. The musical genres were mutually exclusive, no one was a fan of both. It would have been the equivalent of saying you were a fan of both the Red Sox and the Yankees. The front lines for this war were located in New York City with the beautiful and wealthy headquartered at Studio 54, and the poor and grungy bivouaced at CBGB's. The west coast missed out on a lot of this war (we had just flat out surrendered to disco), but there were some stray soldiers ambling about...

It's May of 1980, a young Shiftless teenager from central California is leaving a BART station after an A's/Red Sox night game at the Oakland Alameda coliseum when he spots several young women dressed in garbage bags with their eyes blacked out by mascara. "WTF?" was not in common usage at the time, so I may have actually invented the term when I saw these girls. It would take another year before catching Allan Moyle's film Times Square on cable before this would all make sense to me. But then again, no sense makes sense...

Calling a film dated is usually a bad thing. But seeing the marquees of all the 42nd street grindhouse theaters in a film from 1980 is like opening a super cool NYC time capsule. It's hard to believe House of Psychotic Women ever really played in a theater until you see the title up on a Times Square marquee. It's equally difficult to believe that young women use to walk around in trash bags as a fashion choice. But as quickly as that trend appeared, it evaporated like the sleaziness of Times Square itself. The 80's feel good blandness of "morning in America" and the morphing of punk into new wave by the music industry put the brakes on that shit PDQ. I guess disco won the war after all - shut off your brain and dance robot. However, for a few brief moments in a few big cities in American, that anarchic punk attitude, originally imported from the UK, found purchase. I know, I witnessed it one night after a baseball game. Allan Moyle (who would later direct Pump Up the Volume) did his best to try and capture a punk rock moment in time with the movie Times Square. Unfortunately, the forces of evil (aka disco) were arrayed against him. Castrated and oddly fattened up by it's own producer, Robert Stigwood, the film was subsequently torpedoed mercilessly by the critics and ignored by all but a few future trash bag wearing girls upon its release. Times Square never really had a chance. But as beaten and defeated of a project as it was, it still survived and wasn't half bad. The sad part is, it could have been great.

A street girl and a politician's daughter run away to Time Square circa 1980.

There are basically three things that make this film worth seeing, the acting, the setting and 1/2 the soundtrack.

Acting  Trini Alvarado, Tim Curry and Robin Johnson pretty much did all the heavy lifting acting-wise in the movie. Alvarado and Johnson have great chemistry and Johnson very nearly tore the roof off as the somewhat screwed up street kid Nicky Marotta. Curry is incapable of not being interesting on screen, and he was solid again here as radio DJ/philosopher Johnny Laguardia who reports on the runaways' exploits.


Setting   NYC Times Square at night in 1980 in living color. Just amazing looking. Reading the film titles on the marquees will give any genre fan wood.

Soundtrack  It's half awesome CBGB-type artists like The Ramones, Talking Heads, The Pretenders etc. and half RSO disco poop. The explanation is this, with the movie almost completed, the producers informed director Moyle that RSO was going to do a double album soundtrack and wanted Moyle to shoot extra scenes without dialogue so they could jam more songs into the movie. The songs in question were by disco artists on the RSO label. So what you had was the world's first disco/punk soundtrack, which is kind of like a gangsta rap/bluegrass album. Moyle quit, and someone else came in to shoot the extra scenes and finish the film. The runtime wound up being a bloated 111 minutes.

Which brings us to the films shortcomings. Not only was there major damage caused by the idiotic soundtrack and padding decision, the movie was watered down to a large degree which is strange and pointless because it was destined for an R rating anyway due to the subject matter. The film would have benefited greatly by some additional grittiness, sleaze and maybe even an acknowledgement of the very apparent gay relationship between the two lead characters. Why hold back? Alvarado's character is a 13 year old runaway, having a relationship with a girl of 16 and dancing in a strip club in Times Square - who is there left not to offend at this point? If that doesn't bother you, I guarantee the lyrics to Your Daughter is One will offend anyone, and yet that wasn't edited out.

Despite the problems, the film has many ardent fans, myself included, who fully acknowledge its flaws but love it anyway. Moyle did manage to effectively combine character and music, as he did in 1990's Pump Up the Volume, to create something enjoyable, if with its imposed flaws. Robin Johnson did an excellent job acting and singing in what was her very first film role. The actual Times Square looked great, the bad disco songs were ignorable and the punk/new wave songs very enjoyable. Final score:

Very Cool - Robin Johnson's renditions of Damn Dog and Your Daughter is One are on the soundtrack along with a duet with David Johansen of The New York Dolls.

Not So Much - Anchor Bay put out the DVD which includes a very good commentary track with Allan Moyle and Robin Johnson. It's currently out of print. The soundtrack is also out of print.

WTF! - In a scene during a musical segment in the Cleopatra Club, porn star Sharon Mitchell is visible in the audience in close up!


  1. How did I miss the launching of the Shiftless blog?

    Great review of a film I've never seen. Love the intro and how you approach it from a very time-fitting period. Of course, it also makes me feel all square for being born in '82 and missing all the actual interesting stuff, but know, I had breakdancing movies so there's that.

    Tim Curry IS always interesting, I agree.

    will probably put this on my list. I dig those skeevy NYC films, if only to prove that I really did miss out on something. I still remember never understandingmy parents' concern when I moved to Manhattan. Safest place I've ever lived!

  2. Thanks Emily! It's still not too late for you to don a trash bag and apply some raccoon mascara. It will also help if you carry a large 'Radio Raheem' style boom box and crank up the Suzi Quatro.