"And now for something completely different."
Obscure Movie Review explores films that are more-or-less mainstream (or at least supposed to be), with actors and directors you've heard of, but flew under the radar. And determine if they're a Hidden Gem, Missed Opportunity, Guilty Pleasure, or Best Forgotten.
Rock 'N Roll dreams, studio interference, a lost love story, a top-billed star who was only available to film for two days, and a chapter of history the city would rather forget - this ain't Hollywood, this is New York.
If I can make it there...
Times Square was released in 1980 and was produced by EMI and RSO Films, the latter being the motion picture arm of Robert Stigwood Organisation, whose prior releases included Saturday Night Fever and Grease - so needless to say expectations were high.
The story was inspired by the diary of an unknown young woman that director Allan Moyle found in a secondhand lounge.
Teenagers Nicky Marotta (Robin Johnson) and Pamela Pearl (Trini Alvarado) are from opposite sides of the tracks; rough-and-tough Nicky from the streets; while the shy Pamela is the neglected daughter of a prominent member of the mayor's office.
The pair meet while being examined at the New York Neurological Hospital and become infamous/famous when they runaway from the facility and carve out a life on the gritty streets of the city. They're egged on by late night radio DJ Johnny LaGuardia (Tim Curry), who fosters their Rock 'N Roll ambitions, while using the situation to perpetuate his own antagonism of Pamela's father and his campaign to clean up Times Square [more on the significance of that below].
However, the pressures of fame - or infamy, take your pick - and raw human emotions set in and The Sleez Sisters begin to be torn apart.
You probably noticed...
The Times Square of Times Square is not the tourist hot-spot it is today, indeed the New York portrayed in the film is far from the bustling world city it's since become.
In the 1970s and 80s the "big apple" was rotting and Times Square was symbolic of just how far it had sunk - many Broadway theatres had gone XXX, the illegal sex trade thrived, and the streets were dirty and overrun with crime.
So it's fitting that one of the sub-plots revolves around gentrification, even if David Pearl's "Reclaim the Heart of the City" campaign was about a decade early. It was in the 1990s when Times Square was "Disney-fied".
What's in a song?
The film was not successful [we'll get to that] but even obscure works can have unexpected influence.
Welsh band Manic Street Preachers, who have sold over ten million albums worldwide, channeled their love of Times Square into two songs that even their most dedicated fans probably don't know the origins of. Their debut studio album Generation Terrorists includes a cover of 'Damn Dog', an original song written for the movie and performed twice during its run time.
'Roses in the Hospital' from their 1993 follow-up Gold Against the Soul was even released as a single. It takes its title from the scene when Nicky and Pamela meet and a line said by the latter - "what about the roses in the hospital?"
Why is it obscure?
Upon its release Times Square made just $1.4 million at the box office, against a budget of $5 million, however the troubles had begun long before it hit screens.
Moyle, for whom this was his directorial debut, was given his marching orders before filming finished after clashing with Robert Stigwood. According to the director, the producers were keen to make the most of the soundtrack - given the earlier success of Saturday Night Fever, etc - and called for additional scenes and even to cut some dialogue in order to squeeze in extra songs.
He refused to budge and was sacked. Now out of Moyle's hands the film was chopped and changed, to the point where it even creates problems with continuity in some places.
One of the more intriguing edits is the removal of the "more overt lesbian content", its deletion drew the ire of Robin Johnson in the DVD commentary. The conclusion one jumps to is that the producers got cold feet and tried to portray the pair as just friends, although enough of the relationship remains in the film that it's earned something of a cult following among the gay community.
Sadly, Johnson would follow Times Square into obscurity. On the DVD commentary she said she signed a multi-movie deal with RSO, who had a vision of turning her into a "female Travolta", but no more roles eventuated and they let her go. After a handful of small movie and television parts she retired from acting, the industry's loss considering the chops she displayed at a young age [see the "breakdown" scene below].
Trini Alvarado would go on to enjoy a solid film, television and stage career - including future Obscure Movie The Frightners. Her best known role would be in the 1994 screen adaptation of Little Women.
Tim Curry was the biggest name before Times Square - which is why he had top-billing despite not being the "star" as such - and unsurprisingly he was the biggest after as well, with literally hundreds of credits on his CV. It's hard to believe that all of his scenes were shot in just two days, not that you can really tell given the way they're used.
Moyle was so jarred by the experience that he wouldn't direct again for a decade. He found redemption with 1990's Pump Up the Volume, but the story of the troubled making of Empire Records in 1995 has more than a hint of déjà vu.
OBSCURE MOVIE REVIEWS RATINGS:
- Hidden Gem - the highest rating, a genuinely good movie that shouldn't be obscure;
- Missed Opportunity - a flawed movie that had potential but fell short for whatever reason;
- Guilty Pleasure - not a good movie, but enjoyable, think 'so bad it's good';
- Best Forgotten - obscure for a reason, don't bother with it.
In fact it's the definitive 'Missed Opportunity', with the rating taking its name from the late Roger Ebert's review of the movie. He said, "of all the bad movies I've seen recently, this is the one that projects the real sense of a missed opportunity - of potential achievement gone wrong".
Times Square was hacked to pieces in post-production and Moyle and Johnson said in the commentary that we'll never get to see what it could've been, because the deleted scenes have never been found - despite considerable effort in 2000 for the DVD release.
If the original vision was realised, would it have been a better film? Almost certainly. Would it have been better received? Probably not. Keeping it a 'love story' between two female protagonists would've been brave, but there's no way the world was ready for it in 1980. Plus Moyle admits himself that he was very green as a director and - big fights aside - it was a compromised production, think Curry's availability.
But what makes this movie valuable is that it's a time capsule, a snapshot of a Times Square and New York City that simply doesn't exist anymore. With a frankly excellent soundtrack that captures the transformation of Punk into New Wave.