Times Square isn’t a punk picture”

Posted on 21st March 2015 in "Times Square"

Cover of Mediascene Prevue 42, Vol 2 No 2, Sep-Oct 1980
 
Magazines are dated ahead by their publishers to try to keep them on the stands longer than their competitors. The date on a magazine usually refers to when it is supposed to be replaced by the next issue, not when it actually comes out. Anyway, although this issue of Prevue was probably still current when Times Square opened in October 1980, “Musicals” by Jim Burns is another case of an article having been written months before publication, before Associated Film Distributors and RSO has designed their marketing plan.

The two photos accompanying the article are the same ones that had been used by The Aquarian back in April, although they’re cropped differently: there’s more of Robin and Trini, and a bit less of Tim. Along with the shot of Nicky with microphone in the Cleo Club, these were the first images released to the press, but they weren’t included later in the official press kit.Photo of  Pammy and Nicky in the WJAD studio From: Mediascene Prevue Vol No 2, Sep/Oct 1980, p 16

The article describes Times Square as a product of Robert Stigwood’s media powerhouse, but also features Allan Moyle defending what remained of his original vision for perhaps the last time in the press: “Times Square isn’t a punk picture,” he says. “The girls’ particular rebellion or societal anger has to do with their own little heads. They’re not making any statement; they’re just two runaways.”

That much is certainly true: Times Square was not conceived as a story that takes place within an environment where New Wave rock is actively being created, as opposed to films like Breaking Glass (1980) and Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (1982) (but shot mostly in 1980), where the main characters deliberately set out to start bands and are surrounded by other bands. If it had been, the location would probably have been moved to CBGBs and the title changed to The Bowery. Nicky’s spirit and determination to do everything herself at whatever cost, however, fit in perfectly with punk’s DIY ethos.

Mediascene Prevue Vol No 2, Sep/Oct 1980, p 17
 
But he then goes on to say, “New Wave music was in our script from the very beginning, before we had had any contact with the Stigwood Organization. The music is keyed to the texture of the screenplay.” Although we don’t know exactly when the soundtrack became a vehicle for New Wave music, we do know that in the original script the soundtrack was Classic Rock, Adult Contemporary, Disco, and Oldies. The closest thing to New Wave was “Sweet Jane” by the Velvet Underground. While it is entirely possible that Moyle and Jacob Brackman had started changing the music before Stigwood got his hands on the script, I believe that changing the focus of the soundtrack was Stigwood’s idea. It was a deliberate attempt to cater to a new segment of the market; as much of the publicity material says, to make a New Wave Saturday Night Fever. It may have been a cynical business-driven move, but it improved the film no end. Although it does create the strange situation of New Wave music being everywhere while there are almost no visible signs of the city’s vibrant punk scene that hadn’t yet started to fade.

Mediascene Prevue Vol No 2, Sep/Oct 1980, p 19

Finally, the article states, “Despite Moyle’s claim that Times Square isn’t a ‘punk picture,’ the film’s soundtrack will offer seven New Wave songs, including Desmond Child and Rouge’s ‘The Night is Not,’ Tom Petty’s ‘Refugee’ and Talking Heads’ ‘Life During Wartime.'” That one sentence contains three facts proving how long before publication it was written. First: Allan Moyle had not yet been fired for refusing to cut scenes in order to accommodate more music. Second: seven New Wave songs? The final soundtrack album contains 20 songs, at least 12 of which are New Wave (depending on how much of a pedant you are over the definition of “New Wave”), plus one more song that didn’t make the album. So, this was also before Stigwood had the idea to produce a double-album, thus necessitating the cuts to add more music. And third: Tom Petty? Again with the Tom Petty? Now I dimly remember that when “Refugee” first came out, Tom Petty was marketed as being something of a New Wave act (although of course he wasn’t), and “Refugee” does seem to be a good thematic fit for Times Square, but why were they so insistent for so long that it was going to feature in the soundtrack? Might it have had something to do with Robert Stigwood putting Bill Oakes and Jimmy Iovine in charge of assembling the soundtrack? Jimmy Iovine, who in 1979 co-produced Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes album? That album came out as Times Square started shooting. The single reached #15 in January 1980. It probably seemed like an obvious and easy choice for Iovine to shepherd a cross-promotion deal with a major motion picture whose soundtrack he was putting together. Luckily for all of us, though, the deal fell through. I like “Refugee” but it belongs on the Times Square soundtrack even less than “Help Me!”

tl;dr: “Does Times Square merely use New Wave in the same way that Stigwood highlighted disco in Saturday Night Fever?” the article asks. The answer at the time: Not yet, but just you wait.

(One last piece of evidence of how early the article was written: RSO hadn’t yet removed one of the L’s from Allan Moyle’s first name.)

Here’s the Times Square material from the article, so you don’t have to strain your eyes:

Some upcoming features which offer new artists include Heading for Broadway (starring Rex Smith and co-scripted, directed and produced by Joseph Brooks (You Light Up My Life)), Idolmaker (based on the life of Bob Marcucci, the rock entrepreneur who discovered Fabian and Frankie Avalon, with music by Jeff Barry and Hall and Oates), Rude Boy (starring The Clash), The Apple (a science-fiction musical set in 1994), Running Hot (a Smokey and the Bandit-type film about a female rock trio heading cross-country to Los Angeles where they hope to find success, starring Hot), and the Robert Stigwood Organization’s (Saturday Night Fever, Grease) Times Square.

The latter relates the adventures of two teenage runaways — Pamela, a shy, inhibited girl whose wealthy father, a city commissioner, is directing a Times Square rehabilitation program, and Nicky, a rebellious street delinquent — who evolve into singing stars on their adopted home of Manhattan’s 42nd Street. The film showcases the actresses portraying the runaways: Trini Alvarado (Pamela), who debuted in Robert Altman’s Rich Kids, and newcomer Robin Johnson (Nicky). But just how important could Times Square be to their careers?

“Trini Alvarado is already very well established. Somebody looking for her type would find out about her within a matter of phone calls in the feature film world,” says Times Square’s director, Allan Moyle (Montreal Main, The Rubber Gun). “But Robin Johnson, a complete unknown, has the more glamorous role. I mean, she’s Jimmy Dean. It was a potential problem to give such a heavy role to a novice. Robert Stigwood and I did not see eye-to-eye on that decision at all. He didn’t want to send the picture down the tubes with an unknown. I wanted to take the chance, because Robin’s a natural with a great, gruff singing voice. Robert now agrees that when Times Square is released, Robin Johnson is going to explode.”

As Times Square progresses, the runaways’ story is promoted by Johnny Laguardia, a DJ who “eggs Pamela and Nicky on, turning them into minor media celebrities.” Laguardia is portrayed by Tim Curry, famous for his role as the transsexual alien, Dr. Frank N. Furter, in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Towards Times Square’s finale, Pamela and Nicky give an illegal concert above a 42nd Street theater marquee as “The Sleaze Sisters,” a high-style version of bag ladies. Inspiring others to “reject the plastic culture and go sleaze,” hundreds of teen-age girls arrive at the concert dressed as “Sleaze Sisters.” Undoubtedly, critics will perceive them as a parody of New Wave culture.

Times Square isn’t a punk picture,” Moyle counters. “The girls’ particular rebellion or societal anger has to do with their own little heads. They’re not making any statement; they’re just two runaways. We don’t spoof New Wave either. Pamela and Nicky are dead serious about their trip.”

Despite Moyle’s claim that Times Square isn’t a “punk picture,” the film’s soundtrack will offer seven New Wave songs, including Desmond Child and Rouge’s The Night is Not, Tom Petty’s Refugee and Talking Heads’ Life During Wartime. The movie’s score indicates Hollywood’s apparent desire to popularize New Wave music.

If New Wave rock does become the next multi-million-dollar music trend, won’t that automatically make punk rockers hypocrites, since the underlying core of the so-called “New Wave mores” is anti-establishment?

“It’s an unfortunate cycle,” [Lech] Kowalski agrees. “That’s essentially what happened to the Sex Pistols. They couldn’t handle the potential monster they created both financially and artistically. There are a lot of producers looking for the next massive cultural phenomenon they can exploit. For the moment, it’s New Wave. It’s a self-destruct situation. That’s why my film’s called D.O.A.—Dead on Arrival.”

Kowalski’s attack on exploitative producers could be directed at the moguls behind any film featuring New Wave music. Most suspect, however, is Robert Stigwood’s and Allan Moyle’s Times Square. Does Times Square merely use New Wave in the same way that Stigwood highlighted disco in Saturday Night Fever, or does the film remain true to New Wave ethics?

“Look, American New Wave politics are a hoot, because it’s all art students slumming,” says Allan Moyle, “but the music does have that special new feeling. New Wave music was in our script from the very beginning, before we had had any contact with the Stigwood Organization. The music is keyed to the texture of the screenplay.”

 

 

Burns, Jim. “Musicals.” Mediascene Prevue Vol. 2 No. 2, Sept.-Oct. 1980: 12-19. Print.

 

Mediascene_Prevue_42_Vol_2_No_2_Sep-Oct_1980_p1_auto_crop_1080.jpg (cover)
9 in (W) x 12 in (H), 72 pp (work);
1080 px (H) x 811 px (W), 96 dpi, 575 kb (image)

 

Prevue2-2p16_1080px.jpg (detail from p. 16)
1080 px (H) x 880 px (W), 96 dpi, 556 kb (image)

 

Prevue2-2p17_1080px.jpg (p. 17)
9 in (W) x 12 in (H) (work);
1080 px (H) x 806 px (W), 96 dpi, 608 kb (image)

 

Prevue2-2p19_1080px.jpg (p. 19)
9 in (W) x 12 in (H) (work);
1080 px (H) x 806 px (W), 96 dpi, 628 kb (image)

 

Mediascene Prevue ©1980 James Steranko

 

“TIMES SQUARE ‘package’ due shortly”

Posted on 12th March 2015 in "Times Square"

Scene Vol 11 No 32, Aug. 21-27, 1980
 
Even the culturally barren industrial wasteland of Northeast Ohio was receiving word of the impending great event. I’m kidding, of course; Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown… this area birthed Pere Ubu, the Dead Boys, and Devo, so it seems right that not only did the August 21 1980 Scene make the release of Times Square in two months front-page news, but it gave the story a title that seems a bit cynically bored with the obvious commercialism. The focus is already on pitching the music before the film. In fact, the movie seems to be an afterthought — this article is promoting a media assault on all fronts by the Robert Stigwood Organization, not a neat little film by Allan Moyle.

This may be the only pre-release article that describes the soundtrack by only listing artists who are actually on it, with no mention of Tom Petty or David Bowie. I wonder if it’s possible this was written after the soundtrack had been completely finished, but published before… well, there’s at least one more article that promotes Tom Petty. This article also calls the soundtrack “long-awaited” — was there that much pre-release buzz about the music? I’d be very interested to see mentions of it before this in the music press.

Sadly, although Times Square was front-page news, it didn’t rate a photograph.

TIMES SQUARE "package" due shortly

So, I’ll stretch this post by including the text of the article:

Soundtrack LP, singles and films:

TIMES SQUARE “package” due shortly

Everyone is aware that movie soundtracks are now selling extraordinarily well. Well, you may not have seen nothin’ yet. Soon to be released is the long-awaited soundtrack to TIMES SQUARE, the first in-house movie / music marriage produced by the Robert Stigwood Organization (RSO) since its phenomenally successful projects, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and GREASE. The latter LPs are the two biggest selling soundtrack albums in history.

Two singles — “Rock Hard” (written by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman) sung by Suzi Quatro and “Help Me!” performed by Robin Gibb and Marcy Levy — are to be released prior to the album’s release date. The LP is expected to follow the initial singles’ release by about three weeks; TIMES SQUARE, the film, will open nationally in the Fall.

The film has been called something of a SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER with the exception of its musical focus. TIMES SQUARE is paced by a new wave beat. Certainly the soundtrack seems to support that claim. Listed among the talent line-up are: Quatro, The Pretenders, Roxy Music, Gary Numan, The Talking Heads, Joe Jackson, Patti Smith, XTC, Garland Jeffreys, The Cure, Lou Reed, The Ramones, The Ruts, Desmond Child and Rouge, Levy and Gibb, D.L. Byron and David Johansen. Whew…

TIMES SQUARE is the first of several major features to be filmed by Robert Stigwood in New York City. It’s an original story about two teenage girls (Robin Johnson and Trini Alvarado) who run away to Times Square. Tim Curry (of singing and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW fame) plays the role of the all-night disc jockey who sympathizes with the girls.

 

 

“TIMES SQUARE ‘package’ due shortly”
“Scene,” Vol 11 No 32, August 21-27 1980, p.1
(“Scene:”) 17.5 in (H) x 11.5 in (W), 20 pp. (work);
1080 px (H) x 690 px (W), 96 dpi, 601 kb (image)
(article:) 1080 px (W) x 570 px (H), 96 dpi, 519 kb (image)

 

Scene ©1980 Northeast Scene, Inc

 

“The Trend Settles in New York”

Posted on 13th February 2015 in "Times Square"

I confess I don’t quite understand what that title means. Am I missing something clever?

 
"The Trend Settles In New York," by Tony DeSena, "The Aquarian," April 23-30, 1980, p. 22 (10-A)

This article was published at the end of April 1980, from an interview done when there were two weeks left of principal photography, and is chock full of things to raise an eyebrow at. To start with, director Allan Moyle starts off saying that the lab ruined the footage of the crane shot of the crowd at the concert in Times Square. Evidently enough survived to edit into the film, since the movie closes with a shot exactly as he describes, but more interestingly, that was one of the first things shot, and he’s only now finding out that the footage was destroyed? Wasn’t it shot in November of 1979? How long was the shooting schedule anyway? I’m guessing the interview was probably done in December 1979, and then held until the timing was better for advance publicity. (On the Anchor Bay Times Square DVD commentary track, Moyle describes all sorts of things going wrong during the concert shoot, and footage being destroyed during production isn’t one of them.)
 

Moyle is described as “optimistic,” and Robert Stigwood

has been described as “very supportive,” which usually translates into, “He’s not breathing down our necks — he’s letting us work.”

Stop laughing. Oh, you’re crying? I’m sorry.

Regarding the soundtrack, the first artist mentioned is Tom Petty, who isn’t on the soundtrack. This announcement is later repeated in other pre-release articles.

On the day I spoke with him, Allan Moyle was shooting inside the old San Juan Theatre, on 165th Street on Upper Manhattan’s West Side. The scene being shot was a tender reconciliation between father and daughter, near the end of the film.

No such scene appears in the film, or in the early draft of the screenplay we have. This theater must have been doubling for another location, or perhaps had a set built inside it, or the article’s author was describing the scene incorrectly… we may never know. Maybe it was a wrong description of Mr. Pearl’s speech that sets Pammy off?

Also, unlike the movie, the article spells Allan Moyle’s first name correctly.

The article concludes saying the production is “aiming for a late summer release date next year,” which would be 1981. Times Square opened October 17, 1980; assuming the article was written in 1979 and not re-edited when it was published five months later, it’s correct.

I can’t say with 100% certainty, but so far it looks like the two images that accompany this article were published in other magazine articles, but didn’t appear in any of the publicity packages released by AFD or EMI. If I find them, though, you’ll be the first to know.

One last thing: although I may very likely have been reading The Aquarian in April 1980, I never saved any of them, and this article at the time wouldn’t have meant anything to me anyway. This item is a photocopy I came across while going through my Robin Johnson stuff for this project, and I don’t know where it came from.

 

 

“The Trend Settles In New York”
DeSena, Tony; “The Aquarian,” April 23-April 30 1980, p. 22 (10-A) [photocopy of article]
8.5 in (H) x 11 in (W) (work)
839 px (H) x 1080 px (H), 96 dpi, 685 KB (image [jpg])

 

 

WJAD

Posted on 23rd October 2014 in "Times Square"

The originals of these first two images weren’t collected by me. They’re located on an old, apparently long-abandoned Angelfire site on which Mr. Charles E. Rowe, Jr. documented some of his career in radio, part of which was spent at the Bainbridge, Georgia station WJAD (now WGEX). When these call letters were used for the fictional New York City station in Times Square, it was an important event, so of course he documented it. Unfortunately, two of Mr. Rowe’s four images have not survived, having vanished from the Web even before Archive.org’s first crawl of the site in 2001. (Or their links or filenames were mis-written — either way, they’re inaccessible.)"Stigwood's Flick Set For Summer" from Radio and Records 1980 So we don’t have the picture he captioned “Letter from Ron Stigwood requesting permission to use Station Call Lettters WJAD for ‘Times Square’ Movie” (Ron Stigwood was Times Square‘s Location Manager). I might have a copy of his “Promotional Flier Cover Page for the newly released movie,” but I may never know for sure what the image was he was describing.

We do have his “Radio and Records announcement of the production of the movie,” and it’s the earliest piece of advance promotion I know of. And the destiny of the film’s production is right there plain as day. As you might remember from a few episodes ago, Jacob Brackman’s screenplay from Allan Moyle’s story had a soundtrack of early 70’s FM soft rock and a little disco. This article makes it firmly “Stigwood’s flick,” and defines it as “A New Wave ‘Saturday Night Fever.'” Not one frame had yet been shot, and the focus had already shifted to the soundtrack, to be made up entirely of songs that had no place in the original concept.

(Yes, this publication was for radio professionals who of course would be more interested in the music than the film itself. And yes, the New Wave focus of the soundtrack is one of the best things about the finished movie. That’s not the point. The moment Robert Stigwood agreed to produce the film, it became a tool for him to sell records and its fate was set.)

"Picture of Station Call Letters WJAD sign of steel and neon construction on a downtown building, in the Big Apple"

 

 

Mr. Rowe described this photograph “Picture of Station Call Letters WJAD sign of steel and neon construction on a downtown building, in the Big Apple.” Actually, it’s not downtown at all; it’s the Candler Building, 220 West 42nd St., in the heart of Times Square right where Johnny LaGuardia says it is. Directly across the street from the Times Square Theater. The neon sign is facing east, as far as I can tell. The right side of the building in the picture is facing north and 42nd Street.

I don’t know where the interiors of WJAD were shot, but all the exteriors were shot there at the top of the Candler Building. The early shots in the film showing the Carter Hotel, the Times Square Building, and the Milford Plaza (which I think hadn’t yet been reopened under that name) were taken from there. That much was accurate; if the station was supposed to be located there, that’s exactly what Johnny was seeing when he went outside.

WJAD New York, in "the Heart of the Beast"

 

 

 

 

In this screencap from the film, you can just make out Johnny’s telescope.

 

Yeah, other than the mention in that Stigwood article, there’s no Robin in this post. Sorry about that. I’ll do better next time.

 

 

TimesSqPromo.jpg
315 px (W) x 377 px (H), 100 dpi, 42.9 KB (image)
ca. 1980
retrieved on 2014-03-23 from http://www.angelfire.com/ga2/charlierowejr/times.html
 
WJADintheBigApple.jpg
346 px (W) x 465 px (H), 100 dpi, 31.6 KB (image)
ca. 1980
retrieved on 2014-03-23 from http://www.angelfire.com/ga2/charlierowejr/times.html
 
vlcsnap-2014-10-16-21h04m08s42.png
853 px (W) x 480 px (H), 72 dpi, 404 KB (image)
screen capture from Times Square (1980)
captured 2014-10-18
 
Times Square ©1980 StudioCanal/Canal+