Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Kino Lorber Studio Classics - DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN and MARRIED TO THE MOB ""

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Cinema is littered with films featuring a singers and pop stars in acting roles. Most of them tend to be evidence of why said singers went into music as a career as opposed to acting. Obviously there are exceptions. Elvis had quite a run of movies and even turned in several really solid performances within his rather epic filmography. David Bowie is another one who showed he could act as well as be a music phenomenon. That said, Madonna has an acting track record that is shall we say, more unsuccessful than it is remarkable. She did however find her way into the occasional good flick though and DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN is most likely her best work. Speaking of great work, a HUGE amount of credit for DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN being as good as it is should certainly go to the film's excellent director Susan Seidelman. An NYU alum from the late 1970s, Seidelman showed promise early by garnering a student academy award nomination for her 1976 short AND YOU LOOK LIKE ONE TOO. She would go on to become one of the great and distinct female voices of independent cinema in the 1980s. Her debut feature film SMITHEREENS (1982), which depicts a young woman living in New York City on the outskirts of the city's punk scene still retains something of a cult following to this day. Seidelman really demonstrated a specific and interesting point of view with that film and carried her unique perspective and ear for dialogue into DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN, which was her first studio outing. SMITHEREENS was apparently one of the first American independent films selected for competition in the Cannes film festival. It is a neat little movie and I would put it in a class with something like LADIES AND GENTLEMEN THE FABULOUS STAINS (in fact, the two would make a groovy double feature). The fact that Seidelman was coming from this independent and very personal place to the environs of a studio feature make for one of those remarkable and memorable collisions which don't happen often enough for my liking, but when they do they really stand out. DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN is a kind of zeitgeist movie which is always an interesting phenomenon. Apparently, when shooting on the film began, her now classic "Like A Virgin" album had not yet been released, but by the time it came out, the record was a sensation and Madonna was too. Some may remember DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN as "the Madonna movie" as it absolutely served as a quirky public introduction to her (along with her album). It's the kind of thing that studios love to try to plan, but most often cannot so it can a pretty unforgettable union when things line up like this. The movie and Madonna herself blasted into the cultural conversation like a rocket. She inspired clothing trends and other things based on this movie for sure. I cannot remember the chronology of when and it what order I saw Madonna's movies, but I feel like there's a chance I saw a few of the weaker ones first (WHO'S THAT GIRL, SHANGHAI SURPRISE) and that may have colored my viewpoint and tainted and or made me avoid seeing DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN for a time. The other possibility is that I saw it and it just flew right over my head as far as it being a solid movie. I am definitely getting to the age where impressions of movies from when I first saw them are quite cloudy to say the least and it is only upon revisitation that I am either reminded of those impressions or I end up creating entirely new ones. I'm not sure why, but I have somehow tied director Martha Coolidge in with Susan Seidelman now. It may have a good deal to do with my love of VALLEY GIRL and its approach to a certain "authentic" take on Los Angeles as opposed to New York City. Both those films seem to go together for me. Another NYC film that I have a deep love for is Scorsese's AFTER HOURS. My affection for this movie has grown exponentially over the past almost twenty years and I have seen it dozens of times since then. I've seen SUSAN significantly less, but now it has an automatic kinship in that it features Rosanna Arquette in the city too (as does AFTER HOURS). Some may take issue with this film being called a "classic", but I have to say that I can completely see its place and significance not only in terms of the 1980s, New York, Madonna and pop culture in general, but also because of Seidelman herself and what she means to cinema and television as a remarkably solitary and refreshing female voice. You could argue that SMITHEREENS is ground zero for her, but the more known quantity and perhaps her great introduction to us all is through this vivacious, scrappy little movie.
Special Features:
-An Audio Commentary with the film's producers plus the original and alternate endings to the movie.

Here is a poorly filmed, short interview clip of Seidelman at a Q&A discussing why she chose DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN:
Same Q&A, Seidelman on working with Madonna:

MARRIED TO THE MOB (1988; Jonathan Demme)
Putting out Jonathan Demme movie and a Susan Seidelman movie on the same day is a pretty cool thing to do and I have to tip my hat to Kino Lorber Studio Classics for doing so. Both Demme and Seidelman are quirky directors with definitive visions. It sometimes surprises me how successful they became when they both could have seemingly languished in indie-film obscurity for years, but thankfully ended up breaking out and making great studio films. Both Demme and Seidelman come from a place of music love and that is a sadly underappreciated and underrepresented point of view these days. With the exception of independent filmmakers and a few studio directors that collaborate with specific music supervisors, it seems that soundtracks these days are much less personal than they once were. If you look at a Demme film like say SOMETHING WILD, it is immediately apparent that there is a music fan in there somewhere. A lot of the song choices are just not the ones that would be commonly selected, even in 1986 when that film came out. The same thing goes for the soundtrack to MARRIED TO THE MOB. Here's the track listing:
1. "Jump in the River" - Sinéad O'Connor
2. "Bizarre Love Triangle" - New Order
3. "Suspicion of Love" - Chris Isaak
4. "Liar, Liar" - Debbie Harry
5. "Time Bums" - Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers
6. "Devil Does Your Dog Bite?" - Tom Tom Club
7. "Goodbye Horses" - Q. Lazzarus
8. "Queen of Voudou" - Voodooist Corporation
9. "Too Far Gone" - The Feelies
10. "You Don't Miss Your Water" - Brian Eno 

So, for me, Demme comes from this neat musical place and brings his personality into his films musically in a way that has always appealed to me. Then you have Demme's sense of humor. He's clearly an intelligent, movie-savy kind of guy and that can often result in some very enjoyable scenes. Say along the lines of this:

Now, this makes for a fun, genre-aware and pretty hilarious comedy. That's another thing Demme does well is mixing comedy and other tonal approaches together into a delicious melange of one particular and specific "Demme Movie". If you look at  SOMETHING WILD for example, few films can take you from what is basically a screwball comedy throwback type thing into a much much more intense thriller at a certain point. Some might say there's a reason these types of things don't happen too often, but I find it an enjoyable little excursion and an example of someone sort of challenging the cinematic status quo and saying, "does it always have to be exactly THIS way?". In MARRIED TO THE MOB, he takes that well worn mob movie cliche of "they keep pulling me back in" and turns it on its head by giving it a female perspective. Demme just has an energy about him that is always exhilarating and when you watch his films you can feel why they have lasted and stayed popular over the years. Even his less-known work like MELVIN AND HOWARD has had a lasting impact in that it inspired filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson who, ti could be argued, is one of the most exciting directors working today. 

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