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Los Angeles Film Festival: Susan Seidelman recalls making 'Desperately Seeking Susan'

Madonna hadn't hit it big yet when she was cast. But by the time the film was released, she had become the Material Girl.

June 19, 2010|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times

If the late John Hughes is considered the filmmaker who captured the dreams and angst of 1980s teenagers, then it's director Susan Seidelman who best caught the punk, free-wheeling vibe of the decade.

The Los Angeles Film Festival is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Seidelman's best-known film, the delightful 1985 romantic comedy "Desperately Seeking Susan," which marked Madonna's first starring role in a studio feature film, Saturday evening at a free screening at the Ernst & Young Plaza at 7+ Fig in downtown L.A.

In a recent interview, Seidelman recalled that when she received Leora Barish's script for "Desperately Seeking Susan" from producers Sarah Pillsbury and Midge Sanford, actress Rosanna Arquette was already attached to the project.

Arquette plays Roberta, a bored Fort Lee, N.J., housewife with a snooze of a husband (Mark Blum), who becomes obsessed with Susan (Madonna), a free-spirit living in downtown New York. She knows Susan only by reading messages to and from her in the personal section in a Big Apple tabloid (remember, this is the pre- Facebook era). When one of the paper's messages to Susan seeks a meeting in Battery Park, Roberta shows up to catch a glimpse of the enigmatic Susan. Aidan Quinn, Robert Joy, Laurie Metcalf, Steven Wright, Will Patton and John Turturro, in his film debut, also star.

Seidelman, who had directed the acclaimed 1982 indie punk hit, "Smithereens," knew she had to counterbalance Roberta's suburban character with someone authentically from the New York music scene. "I knew the New York side, the New Wave, punk, downtown of the story," she says. "I had heard about Madonna. She lived in my neighborhood."

Madonna was just starting to get attention thanks to the fledgling MTV cable network, but Madonna fever hadn't gripped the youth of the day when she came in to audition.

"So much is in the timing," says Seidelman. "You have to have the right stuff, but having the right stuff at the right time counts for a lot. That is when magic happens."

When filming began in 1984, Madonna was still under the radar enough that they were able to shoot in downtown New York without security or heavy crowds craning to get a glimpse of the Material Girl.

"By the time we hit the end of the shoot, her 'Like a Virgin' album was just released and suddenly she was on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine and there was this huge avalanche of attention towards her," says Seidelman.

By the time of the film's release in early 1985, Seidelman says she and the producers were nervous because Madonna had become so famous. "Would it work for us or against us?" she says. "Ultimately, the movie had to stand up for itself. I think for whatever reason, it caught the zeitgeist of the time. I think that is what people responded to."

For more information go to lafilmfest.com.

susan.king@latimes.com

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