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Some Fun Ribbing Punk

November 29, 1990|DOUG LIST

In the aftermath of the explosion of punk music and its accompanying lifestyle in the mid-70s to early 1980s, Hollywood began cranking out teen movies like never before. Yet there is no real correlation to be made between the two movements since filmmakers all but ignored the punk phenomenon and the culture it molded. But far from the safe world of suburban high schools and Hollywood, independent filmmaker Susan Seidelman created Wren, a hyper, just-out-of-high-school Jersey girl, trying to be a part of the New York punk scene in the 1982 film "Smithereens."

In the spirit of the punk movement that inspired it, the film spews raw spontaneity, stars a mostly non-professional cast and looks like it was made for a few thousand dollars. And, singer-songwriter Richard Hell, co-founder of the seminal punk band Television, is cast as a punker whom Wren tries to latch on to. In the film, his band is called Smithereens, a name used later in the 1980s by a real-life pop band.

But it is Wren's nervy determination to have her 15 minutes of fame that drives "Smithereens." In the opening scene, this skinny girl wearing a hip-hugging miniskirt and silver high heels steals a pair of sunglasses right out of the hand of a woman. Wren, played by Susan Berman, meets Paul, a strait-laced Midwestern guy, while posting Xeroxed pictures of herself on the subway and meets punker Eric, played by Hell, while on a date with Paul.

To Paul, her irresponsibility is exotic, but to everyone else, she's just a pain. But she doesn't seem to notice as she dreams of managing a punk band and moving to Los Angeles where she wants to "be in a swimming pool, eating tacos and signing autographs." Berman, who has appeared in only one film since (Seidelman's "Making Mr. Right"), creates a fascinating girl-woman, amoral and innocent, a perpetual outsider who thinks she is an insider and seemingly doomed by her personality. But Seidelman doesn't turn this pitiful girl's life into a maudlin TV Movie of the Week; it's fun and funny, and the studied seriousness of punk is given a ribbing.

Three years later, Seidelman used the same milieu in her big-budget commercial hit "Desperately Seeking Susan." But "Smithereens" is the rough, home-movie version--the real thing.

"Smithereens" (1982), directed by Susan Seidelman. 90 minutes. No rating.

"Moonlighting" (1982), directed by Jerzy Skolimowski. 97 minutes. Rated PG. An unforgettable story of four Polish construction workers sent to London to renovate the foreign getaway of their wealthy boss. It's comical, touching, newsy and political, a heartfelt tale of workingmen's values and Western consumerism.

"Smile" (1975), directed by Michael Ritchie. 113 minutes. Rated PG. A Michael Ritchie film about America's unbending faith in traditions and pageantry, no matter how tarnished.

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