Thursday, September 16, 2021

SUBURBIA (1983) (101 Films Blu-ray Review)

Black Label Limited Edition 

Label: 101 Films
Region Code: B
Rating: Certificate: 18
Duration: 95 Minutes 
1080p HD Widescreen (1.9:1)
Audio: English PCM 2.0 Stereo with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Penelope Spheeris
Cast: Chris Pederson, Bill Coyne, Jennifer Clay, Flea, Andrew Pece, Grant Miner, Timothy Eric O'Brien, Wade Walston,, Maggie Ehrig, Christina Beck

Written and Directed by Penelope Spheeris the film Suburbia (1982) was her narrative film debut following her seminal Los Angeles punk rock doc The Decline of The Western Civilization (1981). The flick is an indictment of the American suburban experiment and stars real-life punk rockers and raw live performances from punk bands D.I., T.S.O.L. and the Vandals.  Our entry point is teenager Evan (Bill Coyne, Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones) who runs away from a broken suburban home in an attempt to escape his abusive, alcoholic mother. He ends up at a punk rock show where he is drugged by a kid named Keef (Grant Minere), and later meets punker Jack Diddley (Chris Pedersen, Night of the Comet) who invites him to come live with him and his punk friends "The Rejected" (aka T.R.) who are squatting in an abandoned tract housing site off of the Interstate 605. Also living at the T.R. house are abuse survivor Shelia (Jennifer Clay), Evan (Bill Coyne), the angry skinhead Skinner (Timothy Eric O'Brien), Joe Schmo (Wade Walston, bass player of punkers U.S. Bombs), Keef (Grant Miner) - the dope dealer who drugged Ethan earlier, Razzle (RHCP's Flea, Dudes) and his pet rat, and best friends Mattie (Maggie Ehrig, The Boys Next Door) and T'resa (Christina Beck, Dudes). There among other outsiders and runaways like himself Evan discovers the sense of community and family he never received at home, and eventually his younger brother Ethan (Andrew Pece) comes to live among them as well, after his mother is arrested and jailed for drunk driving. 

With the T.R.s, the suburban outcasts find themselves a new family , scarping by without jobs by looting the suburbs and acts of theft, which makes them targets of a suburban crime-watch group called "Citizens Against Crime.", a group of heavy-handed yahoos lead by the gun-happy jackasses Jim Tripplett (Lee Frederick) and Bob Skokes (Kim Prettyman, Cheerleader Camp), who regularly patrol the tract housing where the T.R.s live, shooting at wild dogs and hassling the kids.

The flick does not fall too far from the punk rockery of Spheeris's The Decline of the Western Civilizations, adding realism to the film by casting real -life punk kids from Los Angeles, most of whom did not go onto to act in much afterward. We also get some live performances from L.A. punk bands T.S.O.L., The Vandals and my personal favorite, D.I. - playing their classic "Richard Hung Himself". The film paints a dire portrait of suburban life with kids who are pretty much thrown out with the trash, but it's not all one-sided; Jack's stepdad, a cop (Donald V. Allen, Down and Out in Beverly Hills), out to protect his step-son and his friends, and it shows a misogynist elements in the punk rock community when a girl is stripped bare during one of the shows, causing the club owner Nicky Beat (founding member of punkers The Weirdos) shutting the show down. The TR gang all have their own reasons for either running away from home or being cast out of them; for Ethan it's his alcoholic and abusive mom, while Shelia is a victim of sex abuse by her scumbag father (J. Dinan Myrtetus, The Power), and Joe just seems unsettled by hos father's openly gay lifestyle. 

The acting doesn't always hold up but Spheeris did good work casting the flick with kids who look the part and have certain attributes that fit what she needed even, if the acting isn't always up to snuff. It starts off with the shock of a toddler being attack by a wild dog and ends with a tragedy that does deliver a punch to the gut, and in-between there's plenty of marginalized teen melodrama, including a doomed love story with Joe and Sheila, but it's a bit of mess. As I get older I don't think the lines are as well drawn or defined as they once were for me; when I was fourteen I was all for the kids and fuck all the adults, but now that I am one of those adult I see both sides a bit differently, and they're both wrong-headed about a lot of things, and this is what leads to the tragedy of it. 

Suburbia (1983) arrives on limited edition region B locked Blu-ray from 101 Films as part of their Black Label series, in 1080p HD framed in 1.90:1 widescreen. The image is a nice upgrade from by Shout! Factory Roger Corman Cult Classics Collection DVD (2010). The biggest improvements here are increased depth, clarity and the color are much bolder. 101 Films transfer looks solid considering the rough nature of the film, having been shot on cheap 80's film stock. There's a healthy amount of grain throughout and it's noticeably brighter with tighter details and cooler looking skin tones. It's not the most eye-popping 1080p you will ever see, which I would lay at the feet of the fast and loose production, but it is an across the board 
improvement over the DVD. Of note, 10-seconds of the film were cut by the BBFC because of animal-cruelty concerns, so this is not the true uncut version of the film, though the Scream Factory release is uncut. 

Audio comes by way of uncompressed English PCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles. Again, this was a fast and loose production and the audio is not perfection as evidenced by source related hiss and distortion, particularly during the love performances. While cab n be a bit thin at times it does have that punk rock energy to it and the live performances 
are appropriately loud. The dialogue at times can be a bit muffled owing to the original sound recording and amateurish acting, but the score from Alex Gibson sounds terrific.  

101 Films carry-over the archival extras from the Shout! Factory releases, these kick-off with a pair of audio commentaries, the first is with director Penelope Spheeris solo, and a second with Spheeris joined by producer Bert Dragin and actor Jennifer Clay. Spheeris is always a great listen with plenty of humor, though her cohorts on the second track don't chime in all that often, but the director fills in the gaps with plenty of stories and anecdotes about the production. We also get the brief Still Gallery, TV Spots and the 1.33:1 fullscreen Trailer for the film.  

101 sweeten the deal with a brand new 32-minute interview with Spheeris who discusses a wide range of topics, including starting out working on music videos for music  labels in L.A., discovering punk and shooting The Decline of the Western Civilization, transitioning from documentary filmmaking to feature films, the difficulty getting the movie made, working with Roger Corman and having disagreement about the title of the film and his rules for the film; such as needing sex or violence every ten-minutes. She also talks about touring Corman's studios, him offering to have her direct a sci-fi film, and convincing him to use non-actors because it's easier to teach a punk to be an actor than it is to make an actor into a believable punk. Spheeris also gets into the casting of the kids and how she met them, often while standing in line at punk rock shows, and meeting a homeless Flea at the home of punk rocker Lee Ving of the band Fear, 'natch. She also gets into how a lack of the amateur actors being unable to match their performances from scene to scene inspired her "cockroach shot" transitions, and how upset the cockroach wrangler was when she would kill his bugs for a shot, at least until she slipped him $50. She also gets into the real-life inspiration for some of the scenes, including the O.D. of The Germs singer Darby Crash, and finishes up by calling out Euro-pop band the Pet Shop Boys for ripping off the film with their song "Suburbia", and stating she burned a lot of bridges in Hollywood, and how she was pigeon-holed into making kiffie films after the success of The Little Rascals, and how she's is quite happy working in real estate these days.

There's also a limited edition illustrated booklet printed on cardstock thick paper with new writing on the film: Punks in Suburbia by John Towlson and Before Suburbia: Gangs on Film by Barry. Both essays are fantastic, but as I am getting older I would have appreciated a larger font, but that's a small niggle. The single-disc release arrives in a clear Scanavo keepcase with a single sided sleeve of artwork featuring the original movie poster of the punk doing the A Clockwork Orange walk, the same key art is featured on the Blu-ray disc. This comes housed in a slipbox with a pop-art inspired collage of images from the film. 

Special Features
- Brand New, 30-minute interview with director Penelope Spheeris (32 min) HD 
- Limited edition booklet: Includes Punks in Suburbia by John Towlson and Before Suburbia: Gangs on Film by Barry Forshaw
- Audio Commentary with director Penelope Spheeris
- Audio Commentary with director Penelope Spheeris, producer Bert Dragin and actor Jennifer Clay
- Still Gallery (1 min) HD
- TV Spots (1 min) HD 
- Trailer (2 min) HD 

Suburbia (1982) is a potent slice of teen punk exploitation, that's got a lot of heart to it. Despite the non-professional acting the core story of teen outsiders finding a sense of community together amidst tragedy and the general fucked-uppedness of the world that's a solid time-capsule of the early 80's L.A. punk scene and a terrific teen delinquency film. The limited edition Blu-ray from 101 Films blows away past DVD editions and has all the archival extras plus some new exclusives disc and packaging that easily make this the definitive edition of the film on Blu-ray, with the caveat that there are 10-seconds of animal violence trimmed from it, damn BBFC!  

Screenshot from the 101 Films Blu-ray: 


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