Screening event: Smithereens
Director: Susan Seidelman
United States, 1982, 89min
Festival Year: 2016
Category: Feature Narrative
Cast: Susan Berman, Brad Rijn, Richard Hell
A narcissistic runaway engages in a number of parasitic relationships amongst members of New York’s waning punk scene.
Susan Seidelman came to prominence in the 1980s with Smithereens, starring Susan Berman, Brad Rinn, and punk rock icon Richard Hell. The film follows anarcissistic young woman from New Jersey who comes to New York City to join the punk subculture, only to find that it’s gravitated towards Los Angeles; in order to pay her way across country, she engages in a number of parasitic relationships, shifting her allegiances to new “friends” in an ongoing effort to ultimately endear herself to someone who will finance her desired lifestyle.
Smithereens marked the debut of Oscar-nominated screenwriter Ron Nyswaner (Philadelphia) and features a score by The Feelies. It was the first American independent film invited to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival.
Seidelman’s second theatrical film Desperately Seeking Susan, featuring then-rising star Madonna, was a major box-office and critical success, launching the careers of co-stars Rosanna Arquette andAidan Quinn and introducing a new generation of actors and performers such as John Turturro, Laurie Metcalf, Robert Joy, Giancarlo Esposito, and comedian Steven Wright. Seidelman encouraged her producers to cast Madonna, who was a neighbor of hers with no acting experience, believing she would lend downtown authenticity and charisma to the role.
Seidelman’s made several movies in the 1980s Making Mr. Right, a romantic sci-fi comedy starring Ann Magnuson and John Malkovich, who played dual roles as both a socially awkward scientist and his lovesick android creation; Cookie, a father-daughter mafia comedy starring Peter Falk, Dianne Wiest, and Emily Lloyd, written by Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen; and She-Devil, the film version of Fay Weldon’s bestselling novel with Roseanne Barr and Meryl Streep in her first comedic movie role.
In 1994 Seidelman and screenwriter Jonathan Brett received an Academy Award nomination for a short film they co-wrote and co-produced called The Dutch Master. The film was part of the series “Erotic Tales” produced by Regina Ziegler and was screened at both the Cannes Film Festival and Telluride Film Festival. In the same year Seidelman was a member of the jury at the 44th Berlin International Film Festival.
In 2002, Seidelman returned to feature films with Gaudi Afternoon, a gender-bending detective story set in Barcelona, starring Judy Davis, Marcia Gay Harden, Juliette Lewis and Lili Taylor.
Her 2006 film Boynton Beach Club was based on an original idea by her mother, Florence Seidelman, who while living in south Florida had gathered true stories of senior citizens who were suddenly back in the “dating game” after the loss of a spouse. It’s one of the first movies to deal with sexuality and the aging Baby Boomer generation and had a theatrical run and acclaim at U.S. film festivals. The ensemble cast features studio veterans Brenda Vaccaro, Dyan Cannon, Sally Kellerman, Joseph Bologna, Michael Nouri and Len Cariou.
Seidelman’s next film Musical Chairs, opened in limited release in 2012. The story is set in the South Bronx and Manhattan and revolves around a couple taking part in a wheelchair ballroom dancing competition after the woman becomes disabled. The film had its premiere at Lincoln Center’s Dance on Camera Festival and played at the New York International Latino Film Festival, the Miami International Film Festival, and the Havana International Film Festival, among others.
Seidelman’s 2013 film The Hot Flashes is about middle-aged women living in small-town Texas, all former 1980s basketball champs, reuniting to challenge the current girls’ high school team to raise funds for a breast-cancer treatment center. It stars Brooke Shields, Daryl Hannah, Wanda Sykes, Virginia Madsen, Camryn Manheim, and Eric Roberts.