Films Illustrated Vol. 10 No. 114, March 1981

Posted on 25th August 2017 in "Times Square"
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UK film magazine with a three-page in-depth review of TIMES SQUARE

In the February 1981 Films Illustrated, David Quinlan took a paragraph to give Times Square a three-star review, saying essentially that it’s a decent popcorn movie in spite of its many flaws. In this next issue, Douglas Slater takes three full pages to give Times Square one of its best reviews ever, finding it to be a timeless coming-of-age story not merely in spite of, but because of those very same flaws.

He doesn’t touch on the continuity problems that Robin herself complained about loud and long in interviews, but acknowledges the unreality of portraying Times Square as a runaway’s playground, and finds it necessary for the film to tell its story, which he sees as indeed a fairy-tale. He also sees Times Square‘s intended audience as being intelligent enough to tell the difference between real-world dangers and a fictional film setting.

Mr. Slater examines Times Square through the lens of the oeuvre of Robert Stigwood, which is essentially and inescapably exploitative. The only reasons for his movies’ existences are as advertisements for ancillary merchandise: soundtracks, posters, t-shirts, and the like, and his greatest artistic successes occur when Stigwood assembles such a commercial package and stands out of the way of the filmmakers and lets them make the film they want.

Mr. Slater counts Times Square as an artistic success which balances its criticism of society against its audience’s attitude and attention span, but in hindsight we know that that’s not exactly what happened. Stigwood’s meddling in the movie’s production in order to maximize its commerciality caused director Allan Moyle to leave before the project’s completion… and this caused the toning-down of the dangers the runaways faced in the screenplay (fixing the problem Slater says the UK censors had with Saturday Night Fever) and created a great deal of the fairy-tale unreality Slater finds such value in (as do I, to be honest).

This review probably came out after Times Square had closed in the UK. It had bombed there and in the US, so whether it was a quality film was irrelevant. Stigwood had known this from the start, and had probably made a fortune off the soundtrack album, but the film’s rapid disappearance from theaters was probably a cue not to try to capitalize with any other merchandise. It also gave Times Square a reputation as a lousy movie, a reputation that took years to rehabilitate, which happened primarily thanks to a segment of its audience who found themselves spoken to by a particular aspect of the film that has so far not been mentioned by any reviewer (I think). (A no-prize to whoever first identifies what that is.)

And it also certainly contributed to the next phase of Robin’s career, but we’re not there yet. In March 1981 she was still looking forward to starring in Grease 2.

Unfortunately, the three-page article was billed as an overview of Stigwood’s films, and so instead of a collection of stills from Times Square, we get one, and two from Saturday Night Fever. The picture of Robin is another look at the first Times Square publicity still, which had been published exactly a year previously in Screen International No. 231.

PROFIT WITHOUT HONOUR

Douglas Slater looks back on the films of Robert Stigwood from the vantage point of ‘Times Square’

THE first screen credit in Times Square is that of Robert Stigwood. That is appropriate enough. Some films are defined by their stars, some by their directors, but a Stigwood production is defined by Stigwood. He is the producer as auteur.

It is tempting to allow suspicions about motive to colour one’s opinion of a Stigwood production. There’s nothing wrong with the profit motive of course and the commercial cinema certainly produces no higher proportion of bad films than the art cinema. But Stigwood’s films are so carefully and obviously geared to their market, so blatantly set on exploiting the goldmines of promotional material (the record, T-shirt, cut-out-dance-step of the movie) that one begins to suspect that their producer has no real love of movies mixed in with his profit motive, but only a cynical appreciation of the marketing powers of the medium.

Such suspicions are irrelevant, however partly because motive has little to do with producing interesting work, and partly because Robert Stigwood has produced one or two very interesting movies, most notably Saturday Night Fever. So it is good to report that, whatever his motive, Times Square does him no discredit.

The outline is simple. Two young girls are put into a neurological hospital for tests: one, Pamela (Trini Alvarado), by a caring but domineering and busy father, and the other, Nicky (Robin Johnson), by a caring but domineering and busy welfare system. What the two want is self-expression and so, in spite of their different backgrounds, they escape together and live a symbolically self-expressive life around Times Square, watched over by Johnny LaGuardia (Tim Curry), a pretentiously cynical disc-jockey left over from the 70s.

The obvious criticism to make of this plot turns on its sentimentality. It makes the corrupt heart of the most notorious city in the world into a playground for two young girls. Nothing nasty happens to them — no violence, no rape, no drugs. They are hardly even bothered by the police who are looking for them. In fact, the only person who gets violent is the caring liberal father. The sentimentality arises out of the lack of realism in an apparently realistic portrait of New York. Cinema tends more and more towards realism, and audiences take it ever more for granted, so that all the fictional and unrealistic aspects of films — all the things that make them art more than documentary — are ignored. The resulting false logic is that, if a film can be criticised as being in some way unrealistic, then it’s a bad film. Whereas in reality, of course, films are always falsifying things, and have a much more complicated relationship with real life than the audience is meant to realise. Films always have to falsify real life in some way in order to be true to it in others. The most apparently straightforward and realistic films are often the most dishonest.

Times Square is a good example of this. There is a complicated relationship between the movie and “real” New York, even though the end credits announce so proudly that the film was “shot entirely on location in New York City.”

For it is a mistake to see Times Square as simply a teenage version of the same old realistic movie about street-wise New York. It’s just as much a fable, as old as the hills, about Never-Never Land masquerading as New York. Children have always run away to live idealised existences: ever since Wendy jumped out of the window with Peter Pan, or Oliver Twist to London, or Dorothy was blown to the land of the munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. Some of these fables have had children surviving pretty tough environments, too; like Oliver and the Artful Dodger or Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

The idea has survived so long and been so successful because it is the great myth of growing up and leaving the nest. To make that an exciting prospect, the outside world has to be dangerous, but to make it possible the dangers have to be ones the fledglings can conquer, even if they terrify their parents in the process.

The bored Johnny LaGuardia is part of the fable, too, for all his obvious affinity to the blind DJ in Vanishing Point. He aspires to the role of the good fairy, although he is sometimes seen by the two runaways as more like the Wicked Witch of the West. Fables aren’t simple any more. No-one sees the world as black and white without being dishonest. So Johnny LaGuardia isn’t just a hero. He’s an exploiter as well. In the end Pamela, who started out by adoring him, hates him.

That type of ambiguity is part of the contemporary dress of Times Square. There are no simple goodies and baddies, and everyone — no matter how young — has personality problems which they explore and agonise over with the help of their friends and doctors.

A fable has to touch on the real world, otherwise it’s pointless. Good fables are relevant; bad ones are sugary and escapist. The closer the world of the fable is to the real one the better. And the strength of Times Square is that it has brought a very traditional story into contact with a number of modem issues.

It is how it has done that which is interesting; because, frankly, a film that set out to exploit the teenage market with a fable about runaways in New York could have been ghastly, just AA certificate Walt Disney with all the good bits left out. Robert Stigwood made a mistake with his audience with Saturday Night Fever. It tackled its issues too robustly, and the censor removed it from many of the age-group who were its natural audience. Stigwood was obviously determined not to make the same mistake with Times Square. That is presumably what determined the film’s stars, its attitude to New York, and its plot. What is surprising is that it manages to be relatively truthful.

That it can be so is largely the result of the fact that both its stars and its audience are older for their ages than people were even when Saturday Night Fever was made. That has made it possible to take the real nature of New York for granted. The audience knows it all. Thus, the dangers of Times Square are not romanticised out of existence so much as countered by the character of Nicky. She is actually one of the predators of New York rather than a victim.

Nicky is a development of the tough cookie persona pioneered by Tatum O’Neal and Jodie Foster. Tennis stars and gymnasts are not the only adults who are getting younger. Movie heroines are right up there with them. Nor is Nicky just an ordinary precocious child. Robin Johnson is a remarkable discovery, whose voice has a range Tallulah Bankhead would have envied.

And it isn’t just Nicky who is older. Even her ultra-sheltered and cosseted companion hardly blinks at places that would horrify a lot of adults. There is much talk in the film about “X-rated streets.” The two move through these streets, with their audience, preserving their characters (innocence is too cosy a word) not because they don’t see what the streets are like, but because they don’t care.

That is what has allowed Alan Moyle, who directed Stigwood’s picture, and is credited with the story, and Jacob Brackman, who wrote it and co-produced, to strike a brave balance with the censor, and show as much of the real Times Square as they do. Thus there are swift shots of stoned tramps, topless dancers and even a transvestite or two; all no more and no less than essential local colour, but nevertheless likely to upset middle-aged sensibilities.

In fact Times Square is just another film using New York as the paradigmatic city; the great theme of all those New York movies of the last ten years or so. What Times Square does that is a little original is to focus on that trendiest of issues, inner urban decay. It even makes Pamela’s politician father, (Peter Coffield), the Mayor’s Commissioner for the Campaign to Reclaim the Heart of the City.

Since this is such a vital issue — in America as much as Europe — it is rather cheeky that the movie reverses conventional wisdom on it. There is no truck with those who want to clean up the squalor of Times Square. Pamela taunts her father over the radio with his plans for making the area antiseptic. For Pamela and Nicky, Times Square provides warmth and vitality and a chance to be themselves; and presumably some of the wisdom that the father learns at his daughter’s hands is that vice has its virtues.

Certainly it is decent liberal parents and doctors who are the villains of the piece, in that there are any villains. Times Square is meant to appeal to the rebellious adolescent who has pocket money to stay out late and go to the movies and buy records and T-shirts. That is what makes adult respectability the enemy.

The question is whether the movie is merely exploiting its audience when it plays this card, or whether it is actually entertaining them with vital issues. After all, if it could be proved that Times Square had actually encouraged thirteen year-olds to run away in large numbers to the apparent warmth of areas like Times Square and Soho, then it would at best have been a place of pie-in-the-sky escapism of the nastiest sort, and at worst criminally irresponsible.

But the film isn’t like that. Its quality as a fable should be clear enough to anyone old enough to watch television. It won’t appeal to its audience because it shows little bits of naughty New York, but because it examines some things that may be more real to them than to their elders. What raises Times Square beyond a banal story of teenage revolt in the big city is that it tries to suggest some reasons for that revolt which are not unintelligent. (That was the good thing about Saturday Night Fever too).

The clearest sign of this attempt at intelligence is an entirely unexpected quotation from T S Eliot which is produced by Pamela to Nicky as they prepare their improvised home. The quotation makes no sense to Nicky, but we have been served warning from then on that the general intellectual angst of New York extends to these characters too.

The film makes a lot of references, in fact, and one or two of them are particularly telling. The soundtrack, for instance, contains many hits of the last few years that are precisely what one hears booming out of ubiquitous cassette players; precisely the music that has helped form the moods (more than the ideas) of the characters. These are moods which should be recognised by British audiences too. Like other Stigwood films, Times Square makes as much use of British music as it does of American.

Indeed, the most explicit references to any band in the movie are to the Rolling Stones, though they are not represented on the soundtrack. Brian Jones, the member of the Stones who committed suicide, is an important symbol to the violent and hopeless Nicky, who doesn’t expect to live beyond twenty-one anyway, and so is self- destructively cramming all her living in now.

What is more, Nicky is a Mick Jagger look- alike, and adopts many of Jagger’s mannerisms in her stage performance. The end of the film is extraordinary for the overall imitation of the Stones which is given by Nicky and her backing group (called the Blondels) who have been ridiculously cocktail-lounge and fake-ocelot up to then. One of the Blondels even looks like Brian Jones.

The relevance of the Rolling Stones to the film goes deeper, since the violence and alienation of Nicky (which is distinctly subpunk) is probably traceable to the Stones in the late ’60s, when they were matching the optimism of the Beatles with nihilism. Pamela was supposedly born in 1967, so that she and Nicky are, each in her different way, the post-Stones generation.

It may seem far-fetched to suggest that Times Square has any elements of such serious import as the urban alienation of the young, or the development of longterm cultural repercussions from the music and attitudes of a decade ago. But it is borne out by the most bizarre and outrageously symbolic of Pamela and Nicky’s actions: their gimmick of tipping television sets off high buildings.

Two things make this significant. First, it’s not a trick dreamed up by the moviemakers: kids have done it on British high-rise estates already. Secondly, it isn’t merely a random action that is the same as tipping anything large and expensive off a high building. It is underlined in the script by Johnny LaGuardia — “apathy, banality, boredom, television . . .”. In fact, the film goes out of its way to show a boring middle-class home with the father sitting reading the television schedule while his daughters tip the set out of the window.

What does it mean? Well, it has been a claim of Woody Allen’s for some while that television systematically degrades the quality of life. It represents middle-class respectability and inaction. That’s so far been an interesting idea for disgruntled intellectuals. It may be more arresting than it seems if someone now expects the audience of a popular youth-oriented film to react to it automatically. And it is certainly effective even when one knows what is coming — shots of television sets sailing elegantly through the air and smashing on to pavements are curiously exhilerating.

Detail of p. 233 of Films Illustrated Vol 10 No. 114, March 1981. Text: Times Square: Robin Johnson Robin Johnson is a remarkable discovery, whose voice has a range Tallulah Bankhead would have envied.There is no question, however, of Times Square being a serious study of these ideas. Why should it be? Its audience wouldn’t like it, and so neither would its producers. They are just thrown in to egg the pudding. These are ideas that are floating about, that may strike a chord with their audience. They make the movie more intersting, and even give it the negative advantage of not tying up any answers in a pretentious little package.

It is certainly these ideas that give Times Square its zest. Otherwise it might have been downright tedious as, in places, it unfortunately is. When it goes wrong, the movie is almost inept enough to make one wonder whether the good bits wandered in by accident. That is to go back to the blind alley of motive, though. As long as Robert Stigwood continues to encourage his directors and writers to sell his movies by throwing all the ideas they can come up with at their audience, his films will be worth checking out. The real exploitation of audiences is by formulaic nonsense that attempts to repeat the same old success. It hardly ever works, as Mr Stigwood realises. That’s what makes his blatant pursuit of successes so tolerable.

 

 


Films Illustrated, Vol. 10 No. 114, March 1981 (magazine (periodical), AAT ID: 300215389) ; 29.7 x 20.9 cm; (contains:)
Profit without honour (review (document), AAT ID: 300026480), pp. 233-235 (work);
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©1981 Illustrated Publications Limited


 

Time Out No. 567, February 25, 1981

Posted on 14th August 2017 in "Times Square"
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Time Out No. 567, February 25, 1981 -  Cover illustration of Robin Johnson by Su Huntley Time Out No. 567, February 25, 1981, p. 3 (contents)

“Of course Robert [Stigwood] wants to make money. Money is the bottom line. But I don’t think he is using me for that prime reason … I hope not, God.”

 

Robin made the cover of London’s Time Out, sort of, to illustrate their cover story, an in-depth analysis of the exploitation of young actors and actresses in Hollywood, and the rough lives of young runaways in the heart of London, the two parts being tied together with an interview with Robin herself. The cover and interior illustrations were by Su Huntley.

Time Out No. 567, February 25, 1981, p. 14  text:  Part I Suffer The Little Children Can adolescent innocence cure adult anxiety? Ian Birch and Fiona Ferguson watch Hollywood line up the pretty maids (and pubescent boys) all in a row. ILLUSTRATIONS BY SU HUNTLEY Since the late ’70s Hollywood has spawned a new type of baby boom. Between 1978 and 1980 over a dozen titles appeared which dealt specifically with early adolescence and its traditional problems. Pre-pubescent stars (you’re an OAP at 16) variously wrestled with pre-teen traumas. Youth, it seemed, was back, and younger than ever. Not that it ever went all that far away. The child star has been an integral part of cinema iconography since the start. Remember ‘The Girl’ in early Chaplin? Shirley Temple as the perennial orphan during the ’30s? Leslie Caron in ‘Gigi’ and Hayley Mills twinned in ‘The Parent Trap’? But why is there such a profusion of such youthful pictures now? In part, they relate to a general resurgence of interest in teenybop. The recession has forced the high street to look for new markets and they’ve chosen the new pocket money generation as a prime target. Sometimes the campaign works. Smash Hits, the rock fortnightly for ‘younger teens’ started in the autumn of ’78 by Nick Logan, rocketed from zero to an immediate circulation of 123,000. It’s now the market leader, ironically beating Logan’s former paper, New Musical Express. It is successful because it identifies exactly with its audience, giving them what they want in a witty and intelligent way. The same tactic has meant similar acclaim for TV’s ‘Grange Hill’—a look at acned life in a suburban comprehensive— and ‘Twentieth Century Box’—a documentary series with a prescient awareness of today’s teens. The fashion industry presents a more complicated picture. It, too, has discovered the commerciality of ‘pretty babies’. New names like Kristine Oulman (12), Cathleen Ess (13), Lena Reid (15) and Phoebe Cates (16) can earn anything from $750 to $1,500 per session, but the undisputed star is Brooke Shields who can command a $1 million contract for modelling Calvin Klein jeans. The difference here is that these child-women cater for their elders rather than their contemporaries. They sell clothes that their mums want to wear and there is an unnerving logic to the device. The gamine look has always been crucial to both fashion and movieland, but traditionally it has been evoked by more mature models. Instead of getting older people to synthesise the look, why not use the genuine article? More importantly, the appeal of these child-women resembles that of soft pom. Shields is always tastefully presented in her photos and films (and with extraordinary propriety, a 35-year-old stand-in played the nude sequences in ‘The Blue Lagoon’). But the knowledge that she is so young makes the fantasy she projects so much more intense and risque. The American TV ad for the Klein jeans exploits just this hybrid illicit tease and upmarket sophistication. Shields purrs: ‘Wanna know what comes between me and my jeans? Nothing.’ Shields personifies the style of this new, would-be adult. Sex is underscored by a lot of innocence and a lack of experience. Shaky talent is partially camouflaged by the publicity of controversy. The cool distance of an icon is offset by the cosy warmth of youth. Malcolm McLaren, rock music’s supreme manipulator, has taken this to its logical conclusion with his latest proteges, Bow Wow Wow, fronted by 14-year-old Annabella. By making the band’s image outrageously explicit, he keeps all his options open. On the one hand, he mocks hidden sex and disguised lechery and, on the other, makes a lot of money out of it. But the key to the current baby bonanza in the movies lies in the mid-’70s. Louis Malle’s ‘Pretty Baby’ and Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’ made i overt use of two recognised child stars as 12-year-old prostitutes—Shields and Jodie Foster respectively. The furore created by showing children in unmistakably ‘corrupted’ roles contributed to the UK ‘Protection of Children Act’ becoming law in 1978. Designed to protect minors against exploitative labour, it also applies to finished work imported into this country. Under its auspices, ‘Taxi Driver’ was withdrawn after two years’ distribution and re-cut. The cumulative effect on movies was complex. Because the Act focussed attention on the commercial potential of micro-boppers, there was a spate of pre- teen pics. Because it reflected a growing conservatism within the media, it instigated a middle-aged backlash which frantically shied away from the previous ‘realism*. The themes of the new movies underline this again and again. Innocence and romance become the order of the day. In ‘A Little Romance’ a pair of 13-year-olds run away from Paris to Venice so that they can ‘kiss beneath the Bridge of Sighs at sunset as the bells of the Campanile toll’, and thus guarantee their eternal love. When two 12-year-olds get mildly drunk in ‘Rich Kids’, the extent of their transgression is an ingenuous romp in a bubble bath. This fairytale quality appears in home 14 TIME OUT 27 FEBRUARY 1981-5 MARCH 1981 Suffer the little children, part I (page 2), Time Out No. 567, February 25, 1981, p. 15  Text:  Cover Story   life. Siblings are unknown and parents are generally one-dimensional figures in the background. The rich kids are misunderstood because their parents are too busy and the poor kids are victims of social deprivation. Here worldly adults may kowtow to class distinctions, but children are as yet immune and choose their chums on an unaffected basis. Social opposites  attract rather than repel. In ‘Times Square’ Robin Johnson is the orphaned street punk while Trini Alvardo (also in ‘A Little Romance’) is the sheltered daughter of an ambitious politician. ‘My Bodyguard’ pairs wealthy hotelier’s son Chris Makepeace with Adam Baldwin, an alleged psychopath from the seedy end of town. Where sex does emerge, it’s embarrassed, confused and unreliable. When Kristy McNichol beats Tatum O’Neal in the race ‘to become a woman’ (‘Little Darlings’), we are treated to a shot of a lighted boathouse window where she and Matt Dillon (the male star most likely to) are dallying. ‘Womanhood’ only makes Kristy morose. She goes off Matt and can only regain her teenage appeal when she decides that sex is for adults and that Tatum is really her best ally. ‘The Blue Lagoon’ goes a few steps further with idiotic expositions of puberty (‘why are all these funny hairs growing on my face?’), masturbation (back view of boy on a rock, right arm jerking), copulation (legs intertwine, camera veers away) and birth (one small groan and a gleaming baby appears from somewhere off the bottom of the screen). The result of this idealising process is to push kids out of the picture altogether. By turning them into emblems—scapegoats, even, in some cases—the movies become vehicles for grown-ups to explore grown-up anxieties. Youth, they argue, has the candour and simplicity to cure adult cynicism and ambiguity. For instance, when faced with opposition, kids simply run away. The perils of New York’s 42nd Street in the early hours of the morning do not present a problem. The heroines of ‘Times Square’ simply dash about the sex shops and boogaloo with local pimps like it was an English country fair. The ‘realistic’ trappings are only present to set the scene which, in intention, is closer to Arcadia than Brooklyn. The extent of such fantasy also shows just how desperately parents need reassurance at the moment. As the period of childhood innocence seems to grow shorter with each successive generation, parents want to be convinced that, no matter what the outside temptations or opportunities, their little Adam or Eve is not going to bite the apple. And yet these parents are creating the situation just as much as they are trying to resolve it. As Sylvere Lotringer, a philosophy lecturer at Columbia University, told New York magazine recently: ‘The pretty babies are forbidden but they have already become cover girls. That’s what counts. The fact that they’re posing means they’re for sale. With the promotion of pretty babies as cover girls—which cannot occur without the active support of their parents—a new step is taken in the destruction of Western values, which are already shaky and obsolete in regard to the actual laws of the marketplace.’ The pre-teen pics are, effectively, a scream for help. They have to believe that innocence will shine through, that moral integrity must bring salvation. They’re pleading: ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me.’  'Nobody likes to think they’re being used’ One such child is Robin Johnson (age: 16, daily cigarette consumption: 70) whose fiery performance went some way to salvaging ‘Times Square’. Did you want to be an actress? I never seriously thought about acting. It never really crossed my mind. I was just going to school. I was a regular teenager. I would just hang out with my friends at Brooklyn Tech High School. I wanted to be a lawyer—my father is a compensation lawyer and that’s probably where I got the idea. My mother didn’t drag me around to auditions and I didn’t take drama at school. That’s why it’s a bit weird that it has all happened. I was in my sophomore year of high school (roughly equivalent to the fifth form) when this guy found me. He asked me ‘Are you 16?’ I looked at him—‘What the hell are you asking me this for? What do you want to know how old I am for?’ And that’s when he started telling me about the movie. Was the role that was offered to you very different from the one that actually turned up on the screen? No. I knew that Nicky was an incorrigible delinquent—a kind of outlandish character who doesn’t really have roots, someone who is always getting into trouble. Her character wasn’t changed. Was the final product very different from what had been originally intended? Were there many cuts? Didn’t you notice how quickly we changed our hair colour? The continuity is very jumpy. There’s one scene in particular: we are driving in the ambulance, and they play ‘I Need Love’, and the scene just cuts, and we are on a train and we have both got short red hair. They cut out scenes where they show us running out of a pharmacy in Manhattan. You obviously notice that Nicky has stolen something, and what she stole was henna. Pamela and Nicky then have this kind of ceremony. We are on the Jersey side of the Hudson river and we mix up this goo, put it in a hubcap and pour the gloppy stuff over our hair. It was very ceremonial you know. The lighting is very low, it’s very slow motion, very symbolic and over my head, but actually we were hysterical. Did you think that these symbolic devices were rather obscure? Like the TV- smashing campaign? The whole reason for us dropping TV sets off roofs is that Nicky wants what’s real. Nicky thinks that ‘real’ is the most exciting. That’s why she loves Times Square. It’s real seedy—it’s graunch you know—but it’s real, and Nicky thinks TV is plastic. But then that is never explained in the movie. It is cut rather badly. We refer to things later on in the movie that are cut out earlier. It is very confusing. When I first saw it I said people are definitely going to have to see this twice.  I had to see it twice and I made the damn thing.  Did the scenes that they cut have anything in common? Yeah. I think they mostly had weird kinda offbeat things in them. So they had to find a kind of medium: we can’t let it be too weird or it’s going to get too small an audience and maybe end up a cult like ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’. And we can’t be too commercial because then it’s going to be trash. Were you consulted at all about that? Oh no. Whatever goes on in the editing room we have nothing to do with. Were you pissed off about that? I was . . . When I first saw the movie it was with my immediate family and we were all a bit disjointed, a bit disoriented. I didn’t particularly like the film as a whole. I like the individual performances very much. I’m pleased with what I did. Trini is absolutely adorable and she’s gotten better with age.  Do you think the film works principally on a fairytale level or a realistic level, or both? I think all the kids watching the movie are going to realise that first of all the film skips over the practicalities of life. How do we eat? Who the hell wants to live in a pier anyway? I can’t worry about every single kid that is going to watch this film. I think that most are smart enough to realise that. . . look ... if they are going to try and run away, they are going to be back home in time for dinner. Where am I going to sleep? How am I gonna eat? I haven’t got my soft warm bed, I don’t have dinner which my mummy cooks for me.  Don’t you think that the film is absurdly romantic? To set it in Times Square and never mention drugs! About the drugs: Nicky, you figure, is definitely the type that’ll at least light up a joint. But see, a scene is cut when we are driving in the ambulance. Nicky steals some carroteen pills from the hospital and she says ‘Here, take some of these.’ And Pamela is thinking ‘What the fuck is she giving me?’ But she takes them and Nicky takes them. Then Nicky says ‘Oh don’t worry, they’re not drugs, not speed, especially not speed. I hate speed, my mother ODed.. It’s interesting that the film is bookended with a couple of black guys who’ve obviously ODed on something. We are just trying to show some of the life on the street around there. There were a lot of junkies, a lot of hookers, life is so crime-ridden. Like the subways, it’s the easiest place to get mugged. Over the last couple of years there has been an upsurge of pre-teen stars like Brooke Shields . . . God I hate her. She’s so boring. Do you feel you are being manipulated on account of your youth? Of course nobody likes to think they are being used by anybody. See, Robert (Stigwood) seems to be very interested in the kind of image I give off, but it’s not that kind of teenage image. He’s given me a great contract and flattering offers that aren’t heard of much now. I’m going to do two more films. The first is a sequel to ‘Grease’ with Andy Gibb. Of course Robert wants to make money. Money is the bottom line. But I don’t think he is using me for that prime reason ... I hope not, God.  Filmography   ‘Taxi Driver’ (X) directed by Martin Scorsese with Jodie Foster, 1976. ‘Pretty Baby’ (X) directed by Louis Malle with Brooke Shields, 1977. ‘Ice Castles’ (A) directed by Donald Wrye with Lynn-Holly Johnson and Robby Benson, 1978. ‘Tilt’ (A) directed by Rudy Durand with Brooke Shields, 1978. ‘Rich Kids’ (AA) directed by Robert M Young with Trini Alvarado and Jeremy Levy, 1979. ‘A Little Romance’ (A) directed by George Roy Hill with Diane Lane and Thelonious Bernard, 1979. ‘Cattle Annie and Little Britches’ (A) directed by Lamont Johnson with Diane Lane and Amanda Plummer, 1980. ‘Little Darlings’ (AA) directed by Ronald F Maxwell with Tatum O’Neal, Kristy McNichol and Matt Dillon, 1980. ‘The Blue Lagoon’ (AA) directed by Randal Kleiser with Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins, 1980. ‘Times Square. (AA) directed by Alan Moyle with Robin Johnson and Trini Alvarado, 1980. ‘My Bodyguard’ (A) directed by Tony Bill with Matt Dillon, Chris Makepeace and Adam Baldwin, 1980.  TIMEOUT 15

Part I of “Suffer the Little Children,” by Ian Birch and Fiona Ferguson, deals with the sexualization and exploitation of a then-new generation of young actors, with a brief passage regarding Times Square that doesn’t really seem to fit the theme. This is followed by an interview with Robin, in which she details many things she finds problematic with the film, the future of her three-picture deal with Robert Stigwood, and the offhand concern, astounding in hindsight, that produced the quote I’ve put at the top of this post.

Hilary Shore, "Suffer the little children part II", Time Out No. 567, February 25, 1981, p. 16  Text:  Part II Suffer The Little Children  Film fantasies draw the young to the bright lights of the capital, where they find . . . nothing much . No work, no housing, and precious little official aid. Hilary Shore investigates survival at street level for the kids who go sleaze in London. Go where there is work, said Mrs T brightly Flopped on a bed in a Clerkenwell hostel was a girl of five foot nothing with a cough that filled the room. She said she was 16 and she liked to be called Nipper. In May 1980 she left her Stockport school with an average absence of qualifications and the dream of a career. By which she meant a job in an office. Filing. By December, she had held three jobs, for a few weeks each. The final one paid £35 for a 37 hour week. Her Dad said get a job or get out. Anxious that staying on might mean another parental separation, Nipper, always close to her Mum, saw no choice but to leave. And visiting home was her sister, 18, call her Alison. Alison left home two years ago in similar circumstances, Nipper would stay in her London flat. There are seven children in the family. But you expected that. Alison and Nipper would hitch to London, they would have a great time, Nipper would sign on, find a job. After all, there are lots of offices in London—in between the pubs and shops, the clubs and Georgian terraces. Arriving in the late afternoon, her sister took her straight to meet her friends, to the West End. They stayed on and on, and actually there was no flat; there was nowhere to stay. Alison was on the circuit. Roaming the streets Of Piccadilly, sheltering in the fast-food cafes around Leicester Square, drinking with the others who roam, drifting on nameless drugs which are freely shared. Just mixing in an image for the moviemakers, a sob story for the newspapers, a platform for the politicians, inspiration for the songwriters, cases for the police.Part II of “Suffer the Little Children” by Hilary Shore uses the album cover from the Times Square soundtrack in its Su Huntley illustration, but it really has nothing to do with the movie. It initially asserts “Film fantasies draw the young to the bright lights of the capital, where they find . . . nothing much . No work, no housing, and precious little official aid. Hilary Shore investigates survival at street level for the kids who go sleaze in London,” and has as a section header “Go sleaze in Times Square, said the poster in Piccadilly,” but it does very little to support the idea that kids got the idea to run to London from the movies in general and Times Square in particular. It is a sad look at the real lives of homeless runaway teens in 1980s London, but the Times Square connection is a bit of editorial sleight-of-hand.

Therefore, I am presenting here first the Robin Johnson interview, whose first line follows directly from the last line of “Suffer the Little Children Part I,” which I will reproduce immediately below it. I’m not going to post the text of “Part II” unless there’s a huge outcry for it, which there won’t be.

Photo illustrating Suffer the little children, part I (page 2), Time Out No. 567, February 25, 1981, p. 15  ‘Times Square. (AA) directed by Alan Moyle with Robin Johnson and Trini Alvarado, 1980.

‘Nobody likes to think they’re being used’

One such child is Robin Johnson (age: 16, daily cigarette consumption: 70) whose fiery performance went some way to salvaging ‘Times Square’.

Did you want to be an actress?

I never seriously thought about acting. It never really crossed my mind. I was just going to school. I was a regular teenager. I would just hang out with my friends at Brooklyn Tech High School.

I wanted to be a lawyer—my father is a compensation lawyer and that’s probably where I got the idea. My mother didn’t drag me around to auditions and I didn’t take drama at school. That’s why it’s a bit weird that it has all happened. I was in my sophomore year of high school (roughly equivalent to the fifth form) when this guy found me. He asked me ‘Are you 16?’ I looked at him—‘What the hell are you asking me this for? What do you want to know how old I am for?’ And that’s when he started telling me about the movie.

Was the role that was offered to you very different from the one that actually turned up on the screen?

No. I knew that Nicky was an incorrigible delinquent—a kind of outlandish character who doesn’t really have roots, someone who is always getting into trouble. Her character wasn’t changed.

Was the final product very different from what had been originally intended? Were there many cuts?

Didn’t you notice how quickly we changed our hair colour? The continuity is very jumpy. There’s one scene in particular: we are driving in the ambulance, and they play ‘I Need Love’, and the scene just cuts, and we are on a train and we have both got short red hair. They cut out scenes where they show us running out of a pharmacy in Manhattan. You obviously notice that Nicky has stolen something, and what she stole was henna.

Pamela and Nicky then have this kind of ceremony. We are on the Jersey side of the Hudson river and we mix up this goo, put it in a hubcap and pour the gloppy stuff over our hair. It was very ceremonial you know. The lighting is very low, it’s very slow motion, very symbolic and over my head, but actually we were hysterical.

Did you think that these symbolic devices were rather obscure? Like the TV- smashing campaign?

The whole reason for us dropping TV sets off roofs is that Nicky wants what’s real. Nicky thinks that ‘real’ is the most exciting. That’s why she loves Times Square. It’s real seedy—it’s graunch you know—but it’s real, and Nicky thinks TV is plastic. But then that is never explained in the movie.

It is cut rather badly. We refer to things later on in the movie that are cut out earlier. It is very confusing. When I first saw it I said people are definitely going to have to see this twice. I had to see it twice and I made the damn thing.

Did the scenes that they cut have anything in common?

Yeah. I think they mostly had weird kinda offbeat things in them. So they had to find a kind of medium: we can’t let it be too weird or it’s going to get too small an audience and maybe end up a cult like ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’. And we can’t be too commercial because then it’s going to be trash.

Were you consulted at all about that?

Oh no. Whatever goes on in the editing room we have nothing to do with.

Were you pissed off about that?

I was . . . When I first saw the movie it was with my immediate family and we were all a bit disjointed, a bit disoriented. I didn’t particularly like the film as a whole. I like the individual performances very much. I’m pleased with what I did. Trini is absolutely adorable and she’s gotten better with age.

Do you think the film works principally on a fairytale level or a realistic level, or both?

I think all the kids watching the movie are going to realise that first of all the film skips over the practicalities of life. How do we eat? Who the hell wants to live in a pier anyway? I can’t worry about every single kid that is going to watch this film. I think that most are smart enough to realise that. . . look … if they are going to try and run away, they are going to be back home in time for dinner. Where am I going to sleep? How am I gonna eat? I haven’t got my soft warm bed, I don’t have dinner which my mummy cooks for me.

Don’t you think that the film is absurdly romantic? To set it in Times Square and never mention drugs!

About the drugs: Nicky, you figure, is definitely the type that’ll at least light up a joint. But see, a scene is cut when we are driving in the ambulance. Nicky steals some carroteen pills from the hospital and she says ‘Here, take some of these.’ And Pamela is thinking ‘What the fuck is she giving me?’ But she takes them and Nicky takes them. Then Nicky says ‘Oh don’t worry, they’re not drugs, not speed, especially not speed. I hate speed, my mother ODed..

It’s interesting that the film is bookended with a couple of black guys who’ve obviously ODed on something.

We are just trying to show some of the life on the street around there. There were a lot of junkies, a lot of hookers, life is so crime-ridden. Like the subways, it’s the easiest place to get mugged.

Over the last couple of years there has been an upsurge of pre-teen stars like Brooke Shields . . .

God I hate her. She’s so boring.

Do you feel you are being manipulated on account of your youth?

Of course nobody likes to think they are being used by anybody. See, Robert (Stigwood) seems to be very interested in the kind of image I give off, but it’s not that kind of teenage image. He’s given me a great contract and flattering offers that aren’t heard of much now. I’m going to do two more films. The first is a sequel to ‘Grease’ with Andy Gibb. Of course Robert wants to make money. Money is the bottom line. But I don’t think he is using me for that prime reason … I hope not, God.

Part I

Suffer The Little Children

Can adolescent innocence cure adult anxiety? Ian Birch and Fiona Ferguson watch Hollywood line up the pretty maids (and pubescent boys) all in a row.

ILLUSTRATIONS BY SU HUNTLEY

Since the late ’70s Hollywood has spawned a new type of baby boom.

Between 1978 and 1980 over a dozen titles appeared which dealt specifically with early adolescence and its traditional problems. Pre-pubescent stars (you’re an OAP at 16) variously wrestled with pre-teen traumas. Youth, it seemed, was back, and younger than ever.

Not that it ever went all that far away. The child star has been an integral part of cinema iconography since the start. Remember ‘The Girl’ in early Chaplin? Shirley Temple as the perennial orphan during the ’30s? Leslie Caron in ‘Gigi’ and Hayley Mills twinned in ‘The Parent Trap’? But why is there such a profusion of such youthful pictures now?

In part, they relate to a general resurgence of interest in teenybop. The recession has forced the high street to look for new markets and they’ve chosen the new pocket money generation as a prime target.

Sometimes the campaign works. Smash Hits, the rock fortnightly for ‘younger teens’ started in the autumn of ’78 by Nick Logan, rocketed from zero to an immediate circulation of 123,000. It’s now the market leader, ironically beating Logan’s former paper, New Musical Express. It is successful because it identifies exactly with its audience, giving them what they want in a witty and intelligent way.

The same tactic has meant similar acclaim for TV’s ‘Grange Hill’—a look at acned life in a suburban comprehensive— and ‘Twentieth Century Box’—a documentary series with a prescient awareness of today’s teens.

The fashion industry presents a more complicated picture. It, too, has discovered the commerciality of ‘pretty babies’. New names like Kristine Oulman (12), Cathleen Ess (13), Lena Reid (15) and Phoebe Cates (16) can earn anything from $750 to $1,500 per session, but the undisputed star is Brooke Shields who can command a $1 million contract for modelling Calvin Klein jeans.

The difference here is that these child-women cater for their elders rather than their contemporaries. They sell clothes that their mums want to wear and there is an unnerving logic to the device. The gamine look has always been crucial to both fashion and movieland, but traditionally it has been evoked by more mature models. Instead of getting older people to synthesise the look, why not use the genuine article?

More importantly, the appeal of these child-women resembles that of soft pom. Shields is always tastefully presented in her photos and films (and with extraordinary propriety, a 35-year-old stand-in played the nude sequences in ‘The Blue Lagoon’). But the knowledge that she is so young makes the fantasy she projects so much more intense and risque.

The American TV ad for the Klein jeans exploits just this hybrid illicit tease and upmarket sophistication. Shields purrs: ‘Wanna know what comes between me and my jeans? Nothing.’

Shields personifies the style of this new, would-be adult. Sex is underscored by a lot of innocence and a lack of experience. Shaky talent is partially camouflaged by the publicity of controversy. The cool distance of an icon is offset by the cosy warmth of youth.

Malcolm McLaren, rock music’s supreme manipulator, has taken this to its logical conclusion with his latest proteges, Bow Wow Wow, fronted by 14-year-old Annabella. By making the band’s image outrageously explicit, he keeps all his options open. On the one hand, he mocks hidden sex and disguised lechery and, on the other, makes a lot of money out of it.

But the key to the current baby bonanza in the movies lies in the mid-’70s. Louis Malle’s ‘Pretty Baby’ and Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver’ made i overt use of two recognised child stars as 12-year-old prostitutes—Shields and Jodie Foster respectively.

The furore created by showing children in unmistakably ‘corrupted’ roles contributed to the UK ‘Protection of Children Act’ becoming law in 1978. Designed to protect minors against exploitative labour, it also applies to finished work imported into this country. Under its auspices, ‘Taxi Driver’ was withdrawn after two years’ distribution and re-cut.

The cumulative effect on movies was complex. Because the Act focussed attention on the commercial potential of micro-boppers, there was a spate of pre- teen pics. Because it reflected a growing conservatism within the media, it instigated a middle-aged backlash which frantically shied away from the previous ‘realism’.

The themes of the new movies underline this again and again. Innocence and romance become the order of the day. In ‘A Little Romance’ a pair of 13-year-olds run away from Paris to Venice so that they can ‘kiss beneath the Bridge of Sighs at sunset as the bells of the Campanile toll’, and thus guarantee their eternal love. When two 12-year-olds get mildly drunk in ‘Rich Kids’, the extent of their transgression is an ingenuous romp in a bubble bath.

This fairytale quality appears in home life. Siblings are unknown and parents are generally one-dimensional figures in the background. The rich kids are misunderstood because their parents are too busy and the poor kids are victims of social deprivation.

Here worldly adults may kowtow to class distinctions, but children are as yet immune and choose their chums on an unaffected basis. Social opposites attract rather than repel. In ‘Times Square’ Robin Johnson is the orphaned street punk while Trini Alvardo (also in ‘A Little Romance’) is the sheltered daughter of an ambitious politician. ‘My Bodyguard’ pairs wealthy hotelier’s son Chris Makepeace with Adam Baldwin, an alleged psychopath from the seedy end of town.

Where sex does emerge, it’s embarrassed, confused and unreliable. When Kristy McNichol beats Tatum O’Neal in the race ‘to become a woman’ (‘Little Darlings’), we are treated to a shot of a lighted boathouse window where she and Matt Dillon (the male star most likely to) are dallying.

‘Womanhood’ only makes Kristy morose. She goes off Matt and can only regain her teenage appeal when she decides that sex is for adults and that Tatum is really her best ally.

‘The Blue Lagoon’ goes a few steps further with idiotic expositions of puberty (‘why are all these funny hairs growing on my face?’), masturbation (back view of boy on a rock, right arm jerking), copulation (legs intertwine, camera veers away) and birth (one small groan and a gleaming baby appears from somewhere off the bottom of the screen).

The result of this idealising process is to push kids out of the picture altogether. By turning them into emblems—scapegoats, even, in some cases—the movies become vehicles for grown-ups to explore grown-up anxieties. Youth, they argue, has the candour and simplicity to cure adult cynicism and ambiguity.

For instance, when faced with opposition, kids simply run away. The perils of New York’s 42nd Street in the early hours of the morning do not present a problem. The heroines of ‘Times Square’ simply dash about the sex shops and boogaloo with local pimps like it was an English country fair. The ‘realistic’ trappings are only present to set the scene which, in intention, is closer to Arcadia than Brooklyn.

The extent of such fantasy also shows just how desperately parents need reassurance at the moment. As the period of childhood innocence seems to grow shorter with each successive generation, parents want to be convinced that, no matter what the outside temptations or opportunities, their little Adam or Eve is not going to bite the apple.

And yet these parents are creating the situation just as much as they are trying to resolve it. As Sylvere Lotringer, a philosophy lecturer at Columbia University, told New York magazine recently: ‘The pretty babies are forbidden but they have already become cover girls. That’s what counts. The fact that they’re posing means they’re for sale. With the promotion of pretty babies as cover girls—which cannot occur without the active support of their parents—a new step is taken in the destruction of Western values, which are already shaky and obsolete in regard to the actual laws of the marketplace.’

The pre-teen pics are, effectively, a scream for help. They have to believe that innocence will shine through, that moral integrity must bring salvation. They’re pleading: ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me.’

For all of Robin’s offhanded concern that she was being exploited by Stigwood… she was the one cast member who was sent around the world to promote the film. In hindsight it certainly seems that she was actually there to promote herself as a bankable star property and to push her next two Stigwood-backed movies, Times Square already being a lost cause at that point. However, she was so consistently brutally honest in giving her opinions of how bad Times Square turned out and exactly what was wrong with it… I wonder, is it possible that Stigwood decided she was too much of a liability, since she was just as likely as not to trash the product she was supposed to be selling, and that was why those next two projects never happened?

 

 


Time Out No. 567, February 25, 1981 (magazine (periodical), AAT ID: 300215389) ; 28 x 21.25 cm; (contains:)
Birch, Ian and Ferguson, Fiona, Suffer the little children part I (article, AAT ID: 300048715), pp. 14-15
‘Nobody likes to think they’re being used’ [interview with Robin Johnson] (interview, AAT ID: 300026392), p. 15
Shore, Hilary, Suffer the little children part II (article, AAT ID: 300048715), pp. 16-17 (work)
Time Out No 567 Feb 25 1981 p1_1080px.jpg
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Time Out No 567 Feb 25 1981 p3_detail_800px.jpg
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Time Out No 567 Feb 25 1981 p14_1080px.jpg
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Time Out No 567 Feb 25 1981 p15_1080px.jpg
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Time Out No 567 Feb 25 1981 p15_image_800px.jpg
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©1981 Time Out Limited


 

Bande Originale du Film Times Square (soundtrack album, French edition)

Posted on 3rd August 2017 in "Times Square"
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I made another exception to my decision not to collect any more copies of the soundtrack when I saw the bright red labels on this French edition. Sadly we don’t get all the text in French as well.

It’s pretty much identical to the Canadian version, with the blank red spot in place of Nicky’s Johnny LaGuardia pin on the front, and the copyrights on the back, and throughout, attributed to Multiplier N.V.

The inner sleeves are no longer identical: they’re now labelled Disque 1 and Disque 2 with their catalog numbers, even though the complete track listing for all four sides is on both of them. The printing information “Montreuil Offset / « Imprimé et Fabriqué en France »” is new. And the line “Mastered at STERLING SOUND by George Marino” is back. (If there’s a huge outcry I’ll post the Disque 2 sleeve, but it seems a waste of space since they’re otherwise identical.)

These red labels were what got my attention, and at least we get the album title in French. Otherwise, though, it’s the same as all the other variant editions, and the music is of course unchanged.

Seeing this cover version with the great red spot again made me think, though — the spot is 2½ inches across. The Australian sticker is about 2¼ inches across. Is it possible that the stickers weren’t just a promotional product, but were meant to be pasted over the spot on the Australian edition? Seems logical. But, I’ve never seen an Australian copy so I don’t know if they have a red spot, or a sticker stuck there, or what. I do know that logic has precious little to do with any aspect of Times Square.

 

Bande originale du film Times Square, RSO 2658 145; France, 1980; 2 long-playing records (AAT 300265802) with gatefold picture sleeve (AAT 300266823) and illustrated inner sleeves (work);
 
©1980 Multiplier N.V.

 

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