"I belong to the ___ Generation." – Richard Hell
It’s dangerous business when a filmmaker sets out to run the voodoo down. Results vary, and tend to be disappointing. Like all great films, great zeitgeist films take a soft hand.
Zabriskie Point (1970) is probably the most famous clunker in the heavy-handed would-be generation-defining-film subgenre, but the whole notion, like that of the Great American Novel, doesn’t lend itself to subtlety.
Director: Susan Seidelman
Producer: Susan Seidelman
Writers: Ron Nyswaner, Peter Askin, Susan Seidelman (story)
Cinematographer: Chirine El Khadem
Editor: Susan Seidelman
Music: Glenn Mercer, Bill Million
Cast: Susan Berman, Brad Rinn, Richard Hell, Nada Despotovich, Roger Jett, Kitty Summerall, Robynne White, D.J. O'Neill, Joel Rooks
Premiere: September 11, 1982 – Toronto Film Festival
US Theatrical Release: November 19, 1982
US Distributor: New Line Cinema
That’s one of the reasons why Smithereens, the 1982 cult classic by Susan Seidelman, is such a singular pleasure. Although explicitly punk, Smithereens comes off as incidentally punk. Drawing on Downtown luminaries, the film plays like a picaresque novel, bouncing between colorful characters as the protagonist Wren (an aspiring It-Girl played by the fabulously intolerable Susan Berman) approaches the world of 1970’s New York punk.
Richard Hell of Television, The Heartbreakers, and the Voidoids co-stars, and while he’s not an actor with much range, he’s a lot of fun to watch. He plays a rakish musician and foil, sort of recalling Hoagy Carmichael in To Have and Have Not (1944) and Michel Legrand in Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962). The soundtrack is unreal, scored by The Feelies, and the camerawork by Chirine El Khadem evokes Downtown-era NYC in crisp colors. Rather than defining a scene, Smithereens happily employs some of the vocabulary of that scene, and the result is an enduring comic gem.