Uncle Lanky Frank | Minneapolis, Minnesota USA | 08/29/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
When she directed Wayne's World in 1992, Penelope Spheeriswas already a 10 year film veteran. Her opus immediately preceding Suburbia was the great pUnK rOcK gospel, The Decline of Western Civilization (1981), for which she gained a lasting reputation as a documentarian of American musical culture. Unlike every other director in the 80's (except for Repo Man's Alex Cox, who did the original score for Suburbia), Spheeris knew that punk rock was about more than just having goofy hair, wearing a leather jacket, or aping that Billy Idol sneer. Instead of hoping for a credible performance from actors, she cast real punk rock kids, some of whom were really homeless! Her ensemble of non-actors turned out to be lovable, believable, and endearing. They are mostly innocent and unconscious of themselves or the camera, which has prompted the most criticism. We're not used to watching movies in which people don't (or can't) act. But this is the nature of the documentary style! Spheeris did not want acting, she wanted reacting and interacting. The relationships and the people come across as real and involving. Contrary to some claims, these kids do embody the punk rock experience of the 80's. I was there and can attest that the 'scene' in Suburbia was genuine. Best of all, punk rockers were portrayed as real people with the same fears, hopes, and dreams you and I have... Also, people who criticize the production quality of Suburbia are missing the point entirely. Everything was shot on location in the "wrong" part of the Los Angeles suburbs, using mostly available light and sound. The script was thin, the acting non-existent, and the budget was obviously close to that of Kevin Smith's Clerks. But the whole of Suburbia is infinitely greater than the sum of its parts. There are several great musical sequences in Suburbia, including live performances by The Vandals, TSOL, and D.I. Look for Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist, Flea, who went on to do another 2 dozen film & TV roles. A nod goes to Roger Corman, who co-produced Suburbia. This man has averaged 6.2 movies a year since 1954! He is the undisputed king of cheap cinema and has churned out some of our most beloved pulp celluloid! Thank you Roger, for trusting your instincts and fronting the cash for one of my favorite flicks!"
"What are you all dressed up for? Where's the war?"
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 01/01/2005
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Disinfected youth...er, I mean disaffected youth...for each generation there seems to be a film out there to relate the rebellious, discontented, estranged, insurgent, anarchistic elements within said generation...the 50's presented us with Marlon Brando as The Wild One, the 60's came forth with Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, the 70's brought us Roller Boogie with Linda Blair (okay, maybe that's not the best example, but then the 70's were pretty lame), and the 80's brought Suburbia (1984)...written and directed by Penelope Spheeris (The Decline of Western Civilization, Wayne's World), the film stars Chris Pedersen (Night of the Comet), along with a bunch of people you've probably never heard of who's only acting credit is this film (Spheeris used a lot of `real life kids' instead of actors, assumingly to present the story as realistically as possible). There's one other notable person appearing in that of a very young Flea (a wee flea? I know, I know, that's pretty lame), from the band The Red Hot Chili Peppers, credited as Mike B. The Flea (his real name is Michael Peter Balzary).
The film begins with a pretty shocking scene that seems to have little to do with anything (later we'll see it's sort of a metaphor, as there's quite a few throughout), and then cuts into a scene of a teenage boy named Evan difficulties within his home life that lead to him running away (moms is an angry drunk), wandering the streets of L.A. Evan soon falls in with a group of homeless teens who call themselves T.R., short for The Rejected, lead by Jack Diddley (Pedersen), at least he appears to be the leader as he seems the oldest and the only one with a car. The teens live among a condemned series of houses, and survive by begging or stealing what they need from residents in nearby populated neighborhoods (here's a tip if you live in L.A. near the airport...keep your garage door closed, as an open door is an invitation to roving gangs to come in and take whatever isn't nailed down). The tax-paying residents, who are feeling the frustrations stemming from the effects of Reaganomics (various plants have closed down, forcing many out of work), are growing increasing angry at the kids and their antics, and also at the police for their ineffectual manner in dealing with the situation (the residents do have a valid argument in this, as the police in this film really don't seem to do much of anything). As a result, the more redneck elements of the residents decide to take matters into their own hands, trying to scare off the homeless kids with forceful tactics, with pretty predictable consequences (i.e. someone gets killed).
This isn't a happy film...there are a few funny moments, but there's an overall nihilistic sense to the story. As the movie progresses, we get some insight on where the kids come from, the circumstances that led them to where they're at now, along with the antagonistic attitudes they must face on a daily basis of a society that doesn't want them, and doesn't know how to deal with them. They don't appear to be bad, as they formed their own little family unit, relying on each other for some basic needs, but more products of circumstances out of their control, left to their own devices, surviving anyway they can (much like the wild dogs that roam the area where the kids live)...the style of direction matches the attitude of the material on the screen very well, appearing very raw, unfocused, lacking the polish one would normally see theatrical release. As I said, many of those appearing are not professional actors, so the performances may appear amateurish, but I think that's the intent. The dialogue is pretty simplistic, but then this also serves to further highlight the pragmatic nature of the story. There's no candy coating interpretations, no buffoonish characterizations, only a raw, warts and all, glimpse into a world many of us would probably not have had a chance to experience. I've read some opinions that state you really need to be a fan of punk rock (there's some great performances by bands like T.S.O.L., The Vandals, and D.I.) to appreciate this film, and while I think it would really help, I don't necessarily agree with the exclusivity of those sentiments (I was actually indoctrinated to punk music back in the late 80's when I found a Dead Kennedy's cassette for sale at a used record shop). I think most all can enjoy a good film, especially one that offers viewers a chance to understand a segment of the population that appears so completely foreign. You may not gain any real insight, or even develop a liking where there might have originally been a disliking (people often despise what they don't understand), but I think one can appreciate, at the very least, the effort to give a voice to those who few would listen to otherwise.
I really wanted to give this release 4 stars, but the picture quality, presented in full screen (it states `digitally remastered' on the case), pan and scan format looks pretty rough, much like that of a VHS tape. It would have been nice if someone had sprung to clean it up a bit, and release it in the original aspect ratio, but this is a Roger Corman release, and he seems not so inclined to spend any more than necessary than he has to (cheap b@stard)...the DVD does contain a few interesting special features, including a commentary track by writer/director Spheeris, along with brief biographies of Corman, Spheeris, and Pedersen, original and alternate theatrical trailers (the film was originally titled Rebel Streets), and some trailers for other Corman releases including one for Saint Jack (1979) and Piranha (1978). If you liked this film, check out a movie called Over the Edge (1979), featuring Matt Dillon in his first, feature role, not yet on DVD.
gtigrl | New York | 04/06/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Me and my sister were in love with Suburbia when we saw it in the mid 80's. We grew up in NY, but we felt for some reason as though we belonged in California. It's great to see Suburbia again after all these years with commentary by director Penelope Spheeris to boot.Penelope Spheeris used real kids as opposed to seasoned actors. As a result, the movie has a genuine punk rock vibe, although the acting is nothing to write home about. Listening to the director's commentary, one learns the ins and outs of how and why certain aspects of the film occur. She took a lot of events taking place at that time and incorporated them into the script, such as the wild dogs in the beginning of the movie. One thing that I am kinda bummed out about is how she seems to be a bit embarassed by the movie. She almost makes excuses at times. Yes, the scene in which the two men shoot the wild dogs is a bit hard to stomach and we all know that that type of scene would never make it into a movie today. But that is one of the aspects that I love about Suburbia. It's a low budget, honest, straight out of the 80's movie. Penelope Spheeris should be 100% proud of it.The music and live concert footage is great. D.I. and TSOL, to name a couple, provide a great soundtrack. I've recommended Suburbia to many people over the past 16+ years and will continue to do so."
Essential punk rocker viewing
Jinx McElroy | Columbia, SC United States | 10/17/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Directed by Penelope Spheeris right after DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION, this film chronicles the lives of a group of L.A. punks squatting in an abandoned suburb. The direction, writing, and acting are beyond atrocious (The RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS' Flea... then known as "Mike B." makes a cameo, proving he should never quit his day job as a whiteboy funk bass player), yet this film holds a certain charm... especially for young punk kids who seem to memorize every line of insipid dialogue. Check out the excellent live footage of D.I., T.S.O.L., and THE VANDALS. Classic stuff. The DVD has an insightful commentary track from Spheeris... she comes off sounding a bit airheaded, but she provides some interesting trivia for the punks that have seen the movie 20+ times.If you are a punk rocker or have ever been a punk rocker, you need to see this movie."
Movie great, director commentary embarrissing
M. Macdougall | warren, RI United States | 12/16/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"the movie itself is a classic, a lifestyle that is now long gone thanks to mall punk becoming so popular. i am not sure anyone born after 1980 has any idea that punk rockers lived like this. great film. as for the director's commentary, i can only describe it this way: a. about 15 minutes into the "commentary", i was convinced she did not direct this film, nor had she ever even seen it before. b. to the producers of this dvd: if you are going to have a director's commentary, please make sure the director has watched the film in the last 18 years. half of the total commentary was, "wow, i remember that" - not in a convincing way either. c. i felt like a blind man sitting through the film with someone describing to me what they were seeing or sitting in a theatre and having to listen to the jerk in the seat in front of me give their stupid and obvious observations about the plot line. the plot was pretty easy to follow, i didnt need the commentary telling me "now these two guys are fighting" as i watch two guys fighting. d. if i ever hear the line "back then , that's what punk rockers were like" one more time, i will savagely attack the nearest person most likely to not fight back. e. there would be complete silence for a few minutes, then she would laugh very loudly for a few seconds and then remain completely silent again for a few minutes, without commenting on what was so funny. there were plenty of times during this that i wanted the actors dialog to be louder so i didnt feel like i was watching it with the volume off."