(1980) dir. Allan Moyle
I’d never seen this film and hadn’t really known all that much about it. In its day, it was critically panned (as I understand) and probably has some nominal (at least) cult following. It’s real reputation is for its amazing soundtrack which includes Roxy Music, Talking Heads, the Ramones, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, the Cars, the Cure and many many others. It certainly captured an asepct of its day, though it seriously lacks the teeth and grit that could have made it much more.
Times Square is the story of two girls who meet in hospital’s mental ward for evaluation of their similar apparent dysfunctions. Pammy, played by Trini Alvarado, is the daughter or a significant ctiy politician, rich, educated, intelligent, but timid. And Nicky, played by Robin Johnson, is virtually a street-kid with no family, dangerously rebellious and teeming with punk rock anti-social behavior. She seems like she is clearly on a road to an early death, but she also infuses like into Pammy, who she induces to run away with her and live off the streets as pseudo-artist scamming gypsies.
Their relationship is interesting and has power because both Alvarado and Johnson put in some very strong performances, very convincing in their roles and their chemistry. Their friendship is portrayed as meaningful but platonic, though their seem some definitive aspects of an emotional, sexualized relationship, with Nicky coming off as a “butch” girl, who really is deeply in love with Pammy. When things seem to have gone awry and Nicky gets drunk and seems to attempt suicide, she speaks passionately and sadly about “things that she wished she had said to Pammy”, really underscoring this unsurfaced love affair.
There is also this interesting way that she gets Pammy to work in a topless bar, where in this alternate reality of Times Square, she is allowed to dance non-nude because it will “class the place up”. That and she’s 14 years old. Pammy tells Nicky that she should do the dancing because she is the brave one, but Nicky responds that while she may be the brave one, Pammy is the pretty one.
The relationship of the girls and their experience as fun-loving runaways has a real aspect to it in its emotional center. The problem with the movie is tied to its version of New York and Times Square itself at this period of the city’s history, its present day in 1980. This film is produced only three years after “the Summer of Sam”, the black-outs, riots, and fear, which is well-portrayed in Spike Lee’s film of the same name. But Moyle’s New York, though physically described with all “on location” shooting, bears none of the reality of the dangers and roughness that would really be around characters like this. They don’t do drugs, no one tries to molest them or prostitute them (please note the non-nude dancing that Pammy is able to achieve), and despite their experience of depression or whatever other mental issues the girls are meant to have, they are able to cope with them without medication or therapy. It’s not as gritty and real as it should be.
Ironically, this is the other big aspect of the film. It is clearly a commentary on the state of the city at the time. Tim Curry’s character (which is another real odd and not-so-successful part of the film) has a vantage point above Times Square, where as a radio disc jockey who waxes poetic about things, comments and tries to define the city and understand it. While on the other hand, Pammy’s father, the city official, is working hard on a campaign to “clean up the city” (to Giuliani it up, essentially, pre-Giuliani). He sees the city as “X-rated” and wants to wipe it clean. Moyle shoots the whole film in New York City and proudly proclaims that as the first title graphic at the end of the film “Shot entirely on location in New York City”. And as I mentioned before, this is a key piece of what makes the film interesting. The city has changed dramatically in the 26 years since this film’s release and even though Moyle’s story ends up playing a little like an old-fashioned “After School Special” with its lack of danger, it remains a document of a period, both physically and culturally.