Before she was the director of Wayne's World, Penelope Spheeris was the cinematic poet laureate of punk rock.
She grew up in trailer parks in Louisiana and Orange County, California, and put herself through film school working as a waitress at IHOP. Her first feature, The Decline Of Western Civilization, was the first documentary about the West Coast version of the international punk rock scene. Where documentaries like The Song Remains The Same depicted Led Zepplin as golden gods of music, Spheeris told the unvarnished truth about her subjects: They were mostly poor, living in squalor, and using the radical music as a way to express their frustrations and to transcend their crappy lives.
Roger Corman, the low-budget producer of exploitation films who gave everyone from Jack Nicholson to James Cameron their first break into the industry, made a deal with Spheeris to make a fictional film set in the obscure world of punk squats and $5 shows. As usual with Corman, the only real requirements were some gratuitous sex and violence he could use to attract the prurient.
Given free rein, Spheeris made a social realist ensemble piece masqerading as a gritty exploitation flick for the drive-ins. Suburbia was largely ignored by mainstream audiences upon release in 1984, the year of Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, and Purple Rain, but it quickly became an underground classic in the video stores, as small town punks all over America passed the word around.
The film has more in common with tales of squalor and struggle like Roberto Russolini's Rome Open City than it does with John Hughes, but it's kind of like The Breakfast Club if all five characters were variations of John Bender, the juvenile delinquent Judd Nelson character. Today, if you know it at all, you probably remember it as the movie where Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers puts a live rat in his mouth.
Crosstown Theater is screening Suburbia as part of their weekly film series on Thursday, June 13th at 7:30 p.m. Like a punk show, it's a $5 cover, but if you're as broke as the OC punks, you're in luck! The Memphis Flyer is giving away tickets to the show! To enter, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Two lucky folks will win two tickets each to the screening at the beautiful new Crosstown Theater. So get those entries in and see a postmodern punk masterpiece!