I can lick your face. I can bite it too. My teeth got rabies. I'm gonna give'em to you. Feed me, feed me. Can't you hear me howl? Feed me. I'm a damn dog now. Damn dog me. Sound Sample: Damn Dog by Nicky Marotta
Not exactly sure how many LPs are in the collection. A couple thousand pieces of physical product. Nothing especially noteworthy from a collectors standpoint. I’ve never been a completist for a specific label or band. (Althrough…a complete collection of Morricone soundtracks would be rather fine. But I digress). Some of those records have been with me since I was a boy and others didn’t survive the last big purge. Such is life. Never collected many DVDs/Blue Rays. Mostly Documentaries and a few concert films. Somehow three VHS tapes have managed to survived my various flirtations; Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre’, Rene’ Laloux’s La Planete’ Sauvage and Time Square.
Before we get started with our film, allow me to provide a little additional context for our film review; Subscription Television arrived rather late in our household. (As did centeral air-conditioning). This new ”at-home” cable certainly changed our family viewing habits. Suddenly, there was an over abundance of really bad films to watch. How else to fill a 24 hour viewing cycle? For every Jaws or Close Encounters there was an endless onslaught of third-rate horror and god-awful teenage comedies. And on a very rare occassion a little gem would appear without warning. One such gem was Allan Moyle’s 1980 film Time Square.
Part teenage explotation and part cultural examination,Time Square has a lot to offer those willing to look. Instead of the usual rebellious romance senerio, Allan Moyle‘s story of two teenage girls from New York has a surprising high level of street grit woven into the story . Remember this was the age of the Valley Girl in America. Youth culture became little more then a shopping trip to the suburban mall. The zeal of consumerism replacing any thoughtful discovery. Time Square was a different breed. And I’ll be forthright here, the feminist subplot of the film was completely lost on me at the time.The film characters felt like comrades in my own quest for rebellion. And from my point-of-view, it was great seeing other teenagers struggling with confusion and loneliness.
Originally release on October 17, 1980, Time Square is a subversive coming-of-age film that captured the cynicism of eighties youth culture. Staring Trini Alvarado (Pamela) and Robin Johnson (Nicky) as the two main protagonists, the girls represented a silent generation overshadowed by the endless influence of the baby-boom/Beatles generation. Actor Tim Curry is Johnny LaGuardia. A slightly sinister radio DJ who guilds and encourages Nicky and Pam to rebel against their corrupted adult world; “You may have to jump off into the darkness. How desperate they feel, those moments before you jump. But sometimes you just got to do it“. LaGuardia providing nightly radio updates on the girls status as runaways. This unexpected media exposure transforms the girls from unknown “zombie girls” to their self-declared status as Sleez Sisters – underground cultural heroes of Time Square.
Pam is the good-girl. Wealthy and Privileged. Externally, she complies with each demand made by her father, David Pearl. Pam achieving the good grades and good behavior expected of her. The main concern of her family life seems to be Pearl’s burgeoning political career. But the good-girl role comes at a high cost for Pam. Inside she is void and voiceless. Her only rebellion or outlet seems to be writing poems in a small book that nobody will see but her. As a politician and businessman, David Pearl is endlessly ambitious. Appointed and empowered by the city commission to “clean up” the undisireable element of Time Square. It’s a position designed to propel Pearl into a campaign to become Mayor. Eventually, Pam suffers a breakdown and sent to a local hospital for observation with instructions to rest and recover. Nicky’s character is nearly the opposite of Pam. Explosive and alone. Nicky has already begun her war against the system. And it’s that aggression toward authority that leads her into the confrontation with the NYPD that requires she be observed and evaluated at the same hospital as Pam. Once the two girls find each other there is an instant bond of friendship(?) and a contempt for the adult world. Together they make the decision to runaway and jump into darkness.
Once on the run, the Sleavy Sisters main goal is to disrupt David Pearl‘s Time Square establishment. The girls giving a voice to the voiceless. They expose the lie behind Pearl’s plan to create a Time Square “safe for families” again. The busIness elites of the city have no wish to resolve the roots issues behind poverty and social alienation. And the girls see through the thin veil of racism and elitism that lurks behind Pearl’s wide smile and pretty speeches. Their attack becoming very personal when the Sleaz Sisters make a surprise appearance on Johnny LaGuardia’s live radio broadcast;
I'm sticking pins into your brain. I'm manslaughtering you with voodoo. Can you hear the drums? Can you feel the pain yet? Yeah, Mr. Pearl? I hate you with every rotten tooth in my head. Black-eyes to YOU, fucking Nazi. Stick pins into you. Sleez Sister voodoo
Of course, the film was pure movie-time fantasy. And there are many fault in the plot and character development regarding issues of privilege, class and race. However, before we take this little film apart, let’s acknowledge two important positive factors of the film. Firstly, we want to believe in this film. Pam and Nicky are amazingly likable and their alienation seems real and justified. Secondly, within the narrow context of the film, the girl’s rebellion is righteous and their fight seem just. The only major criticism of the film is that the director never went far enough in confronting the issues of systemic racism and instituational poverty. Time Square certainly stepped much closer to those issues then most films from thise period.Perhaps the real revalation of the film is how much of Mr. Pearl‘s Time Square “clean-up” plan would be in mimicked in real world politics. The parallels between the film and reality in this regard are impossible to overlook.Time Square foreshadowing the familiy values/security political platform that would dominate the American national conversation for the next two decades.
The Stop-Question-and-Frisk Program in NY was an outgrowth of a rather flawed policing program called Broken Windows; a criminological theory that stated targeting minor crime would create an atmosphere of civil order. And while the theory was proven overly simplistic, Broken Windows was politically popular with a public looking for easy answers to complex and expensive problems. The legal precedent for Stop and Frisk was based on established criminal procedure law (Terry v. Ohio) or, commonly called, the Terry Stop. The Terry Stop ruling gave law enforcement the ability to detain a person on mere suspicion of a crime. Stop and Frisk took that ruling to the next step and assumed everyone is under suspicion. In 1994 the newly elected Mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, endorsed the policy of detaining citizens for low-level crimes; for example, graffiti, public drinking or loitering. It’s important to note that at the height of the program nearly 700,000 people were detained in one year. With 90% of those being African-Americans between the ages of 14-21. And the long term result of this policy were equally destructive; the (further) alienation and mistrust of huge segment of the population and the acceleration of cultural decline that always accompanies such fragmentation. Today the real Time Square is just another Disneyland. Gone are the characteristics that made the city so vivid and excitng in the film. The cultural fascism of stop and frisk and other neo-liberal policies eliminating the fabled personality of the city. Extraditing the poor and minority population further and further from the view of the ruling elite.
The film Time Square ends on a triumphant note for our two heroes. Pam blossoming into a talented, well adjusted young women and Nicky achieving a future as a musician or performer. And when i saw the film as a boy I was more or less satisfied with the outcome. Enjoying the triumph of the girls over the hypocrisy and compromise of society. So much has changed since those simple days. Can we still believe that such victories are possible? Perhaps that is the wrong question. As author and philosopher, Chris Hedges wrote in Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt, ”I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists”.
One final thought. In 1992 the Manic Street Preachers released their debut album, Generation Terrorists. A raging, angry slice of raw guitar rock fueled by defiant political slogans. It’s brilliant. A glorious album full of great tracks; Slash N’ Burn, Stay Beautiful and a passionaite Motorcycle Emptiness. But look a bit deeper within the track list and you will find an little oddity that gets overlooked. Damn Dog is the Manic’s cover of the Sleez Sister track from the film Time Square, Damn Dog. At first the song seems a rather strange choice for a band as prolific as the Manic Street Preachers. The original version always sounded a bit to twee to be taken seriously. (Try just reading the lyric). However, in the capable hands of the Manic‘s Damn Dog gets the raw, loud, electric sound that was always needed. The Preachers’ transforming the novelty cover song into an honest two minutes of bile and rebellion. And I can’t help but smile and think of our two heroes, Nicky and Pam. Sound Sample: Manic Street Preachers / Damn Dog.
Times Square: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Suzi Quatro: “Rock Hard”
The Pretenders: “Talk of the Town”
Roxy Music: “Same Old Scene”
Gary Numan: “Down in the Park”
Robin Gibb and Marcy Levy: “Help Me!”
Talking Heads: “Life During Wartime”
Joe Jackson: “Pretty Boys”
XTC: “Take This Town”
Ramones: “I Wanna Be Sedated”
Robin Johnson: “Damn Dog”
Robin Johnson and Trini Alvarado: “Your Daughter Is One”
The Ruts: “Babylon’s Burning”
D.L. Byron: “You Can’t Hurry Love”
Lou Reed: “Walk on the Wild Side”
Desmond Child and Rouge: “The Night Was Not”
Garland Jeffreys: “Innocent, Not Guilty”
The Cure: “Grinding Halt”
Patti Smith Group: “Pissing in a River”
David Johansen and Robin Johnson: “Flowers of the City”
Robin Johnson: “Damn Dog” (Reprise – The Cleo Club)