DVD Review: Suburbia
As part of their Roger Corman retrospective, Shout! Factory is releasing Penelope Speeris' Suburbia this week, an exploration of punk rock culture in a futuristic wasteland. The film follows two young runaways who end up staying at the local punk rock crash pad. The storyline revolves around this ragtag band of outsiders self-dubbed "The Rejected" ("TR") who are "bound together by tragedy and punk rock" and their clash with the local townsfolk. Classic. Just replace the Big Wheels and skateboards with Harleys and you have The Wild Angels.
Really, who better to make this movie than Corman, king of teens gone wild? When one of the local concerned citizens insists, "We’re talking about a bunch of sickos, mental rejects running wild in the streets” it's pure Blackboard Jungle.
The movie's singular voice of reason, a local cop who is also the stepdad of one of The Rejected responds, "Were talking about kids like yours ...and mine." It's timeless. The "Citizens Against Crime" are gun-toting rednecks out to clean up the neighborhood.
In an interesting pairing, Corman chose Penelope Speeris to write and direct the film after watching The Decline of Western Civilization, possibly the most accurate documentary of the Los Angeles hardcore punk scene.
The movie had plenty of punk rock cred beyond Speeris. They filmed with real punks we knew in lead roles -- Flea, Maggie Ehrig, Andre Boutilier, Mike Glass and Bobbie Brat. It's apparently easier to teach acting than punk rock. Gary Leonard was the still photographer. Admittedly, the punk bands represented more of the cheeseball aspect of punk rock. TSOL, The Vandals, and D.I. bordered on cartoonish. with songs like "Richard Hung Himself".
Film extras on the new release include a new anamorphic widescreen transfer to improve the video quality, theatrical trailers and audio commentary with Penelope Spheeris. The voice-overs are worth it, as Speeris swings between hilarious commentary and an amazing grasp of the obvious. Spheeris explains, "That's a wig she's wearing" over a girl wearing the most obvious wig ever and "that's a doll, not a real child" as a doll is attacked by a wild dog.
The film does a good job of capturing the early 80s zeitgeist of negativity and nihilism. Teens lived under the omnispresent threat of Reagan's nuclear stockpile, feeling that they had unfairly been left holding the ecological bag by previous generations. When one of the TR punks comments on acid rain, it's almost nostalgic, like, "Ohhhhh, I remember acid rainnn!" Jules Verne utopias had faded and the film depicts a futuristic nightmare where suburban neighborhoods deteriorate and wild dogs run loose in the streets.
Is it a good movie? No, not really. The acting is amateurish, the main characters are unsympathetic, the plotline is hackneyed and predictable. But is it a fun movie? Yes! As a cult movie, it is a resounding success. You can mock the bands and laugh at the John Waters-style overacting. Flea manages to stuff an entire rat in his mouth and Andre throws his prosthetic leg at the new kid. As the camera pans past the punkers in one scene, someone mumbles, "Yeah, hate the president, take some drugs, kill each other..." It's kind of meta.