by Greg Carlson
(In this column, I go through the high volume of movie-related collectables that I’ve acquired over the decades, and revisit (or view for the first time) the film(s) associated with the used VHS tape, promotional T-shirt, scratchy vinyl soundtrack album, etc., that have filled my shelves and storage boxes.)
“Times Square” Discount DVD/LP Combo
Back in mid-2002, I was working at a health insurance company located on the outskirts of Tacoma, Washington. During my lunch breaks, I had the option of A) bringing my meal and eating it in the drab break room, B) driving down the main road and choosing one of the many fast food franchises, or C) walking across the street to the truck stop, and entertaining myself with the odd assortment of sundries and gadgets populating the shelves. Given my fondness for hunting down buried treasures and kitschy knick-knacks, you can probably guess which lunchtime option was the most popular.
During one of these time-killing afternoons, I noticed a familiar display container near the checkout counters. The truck stop was having their annual DVD blowout sale. I immediately dove in, hoping to find a couple of diamonds in the rough pile composed of Steven Seagal cheapies, hastily packaged martial arts films, and forgotten acting debuts from then-current country stars. As I clawed towards the bottom of the container, I noticed a familiar neon-style logo adorning a pink DVD cover: Times Square, Allan Moyle and Robert Stigwood’s unsuccessful attempt to create a punk rock Saturday Night Fever. I remembered the movie via the 2-disc soundtrack LP that was on the shelf in my college radio station, and how it was a near-flawless compilation of proto-punk and new wave songs (I wound up purchasing the album a couple of years later, at a neighborhood garage sale.) Elated at the randomness of finding this particular film at a truck stop in a working-class port city, I knew it was going to be a part of my cult movie collection.
Maybe it’s because I came into the movie late (pushing thirty with bills to pay, as opposed to coming across it during my teenage years, while trying desperately to find the ultimate punk rock guidebook), but I wound up underwhelmed with Times Square on a cinematic and cult movie level. It’s been noted on several websites, as well as via the director’s commentary on the DVD, that the film went through several rounds of edits, taking out a romantic subplot between the film’s two female leads, as well as key scenes of the grassroots rebellion instigated by leather-clad tough gal Nicky Marotta (Robin Johnson), the proto-Guiliani politician’s meek daughter Pamela Pearl (Trini Alvarado), and omnipresent disc jockey Johnny LaGuardia (Tim Curry). The result is a disjointed storyline that limps towards the inevitable end musical number, where various New York City residents realize (for one night, at least), that cleaning up Times Square would rob the neighborhood of its dangerous and rebellious character.
So why do I keep the DVD/LP set in my collection? Like many Big Apple-centric films of the ‘70s and ‘80s, it’s a great visual chronicle of old-style New York City, specifically the gritty sleaze of Times Square. Run-down adult theaters, abandoned buildings just right for squatting, streetwalkers, red velvet dive bars that always have their Christmas lights on, television sets being thrown from roofs of apartments, pre-teens selling cans of beer on the street – you know, the good old days. The urban decay caused by many residents fleeing the city during the mid-to-late ‘70s is on full display here; even the people thumbing their noses at the civic leaders looking to clean up the area appear weary and defeated. As New York City continues to become this well-to-do, hipster, $1 million brownstone…however you want to classify it, it’s important that we have documentation of what the five boroughs used to look like.
The other reason I come back to Times Square is the soundtrack. In this age where anybody with a YouTube/Spotify account can create a punk/new wave playlist, it’s nice to find a compilation that was actually made in the late ‘70s. Tacked-on Robin Gibb ballad aside, the two vinyl discs move flawlessly from punk godfathers (Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Roxy Music, David Johansen), to young and hungry then-current artists (Gary Numan, the Ramones, XTC, The Cure), to lesser-known also-rans who were very loosely associated with New Wave (Garland Jeffreys, D.L. Byron, Desmond Child & Rogue.) Rounding out the soundtrack are two originals sung by Robin Johnson: “Damn Dog,” a rocking number in the Suzi Quatro vein, and “Your Daughter is One,” an attempt to create Sex Pistols-like provocation that no artist could ever get away with today.
While I probably won’t watch “Times Square” front to back anytime soon, I can see myself surfing the Scene Selections on the DVD menus a la YouTube, watching various clips where the images of old New York City match up with the now-classic tunes of the period, creating a unique audio/visual snapshot of the Big Apple that we will never see or hear again, no matter how meticulous current filmmakers or retro documentarians research the era. The soundtrack LP will remain in my permanent collection as well, as it captures the essence of a fertile and exciting period in music history much better than any of those automated “You also may like…” playlists.
About Greg Carlson: I’m a huge movie fan who frequents Scarecrow Video on a regular basis. My top three films are (in random order): “Time Bandits”, “Repo Man”, and “Taxi Driver.” In my spare time, I like to hunt for vinyl records and kitschy items old-school-style, via thrift stores and estate sales – eBay and Craigslist are not part of the strategery.