[box cover]

Smithereens

Susan Seidelman's groundbreaking indie Smithereens (1982) opens with the film's protagonist, Wren (Susan Berman), snatching a pair of hip checkered sunglasses from some unlucky hipster chick loitering too carelessly in a New York City subway station. It's a perfect introduction to the character and to the film itself, which was shot for $100,000 and likely required Seidelman to steal as many moments as she could without the proper shooting permits. In fact, it's hard to imagine the film enduring as it has without its gritty downtown locations, all of which Seidelman shoots as if they were the bombed out ruins of Rossellini's Rome. New York City has since rebounded, while independent filmmaking has also grown a bit savvier; thus, it's hard to view Smithereens today as anything more than a plucky relic from a movement that would soon turn out far more mature and accomplished works. Still, there are residual pleasures lurking within the film; it's just a shame that one has to contend with such an awfully unlikable protagonist to find them. At one time, Wren was hailed as a scrappy symbol of the rough-and-tumble New York punk scene, which essentially lent its collective approval with the casting of ex-Television bassist Richard Hell. But regardless of how iconic Berman is in the role, Seidelman, working from a script by Peter Askin and Ron Nyswaner, never even attempts to locate a sympathetic trait in the character. The closest she comes is when Wren confesses to Paul (Brad Rinn), a kind-hearted naïf from Montana who gets duped repeatedly throughout the film, that she knows she's a "rotten person". Unfortunately, she uses this awareness as an excuse to keep abusing Paul's generosity, while pursuing Eric (Hell), an equally loathsome hipster for whom Wren feels great, unrequited affection. Though Wren's behavior engenders nothing but audience ill-will, her narcissism is occasionally good for a laugh or two; e.g., her favorite pastime seems to be plastering pictures of herself all over the East Village screaming out the question, "Who Is This?" But there's only so far a movie like this can go under the power of such an unpleasant jerk, and Seidelman's efforts are only further sabotaged by the script, which builds hastily to a poorly conceived climax that finds Wren and Eric mugging a henpecked businessman from out of town. While Berman imbues Wren with no shortage of energy, she's unable to compensate for her woefully lacking acting chops (unsurprisingly, Berman wouldn't appear in another film until Seidelman's 1987 romantic comedy misfire, Making Mr. Right) And though Hell exudes plentiful punk rock cool, he's really not much of an actor, as his subsequent performance in Desperately Seeking Susan (another bit of Seidelman charity) would effectively expose. He does, however, make a welcome contribution to the soundtrack by way of his short-lived side project, The Voidoids, though most of the music is provided by Glenn Mercer and Bill Million of The Feelies, who knock out a great score in search of a serviceable movie. Sadly, for all of Smithereens scuzzy authenticity, this isn't it. Blue Underground presents Smithereens in a pretty good widescreen transfer (1.66:1) with decent Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include a moderated feature-length commentary with Seidelman, an interview featurette with the leads entitled "Desperately Seeking Susan and Richard" (12 min.), the theatrical trailer, and a stills gallery. Keep-case.
—Clarence Beaks



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