“Suburbia” (1983) dir. Penelope Spheeris

Before director Penelope Spheeris entered the Hollywood mainstream with “Wayne’s World” and “The Beverly Hillbillies,”  she directed the seminal punk and metal documentaries “The Decline of Western Civilization Parts 1 and 2”  and also directed “Suburbia,” a punk melodrama for legendary exploitation producer Roger Corman in 1983.  Corman has always had a knack for recognizing filmmaking talent and gave Spheeris a lot of leeway in making “Suburbia” as long as she delivered plenty of action, violence, and nudity (including a church riot homage to Corman’s biker classic from the 1960s, “The Wild Angels”).

“Suburbia” delivers plenty of action, violence and nudity, but with a couple of exceptions, most of the people appearing in the film were actual punks she ran into and cast in the film (including a pre-Red Hot Chili Pepper’s Flea, billed as Mike B. the Flea in the credits, in a pivotal supporting role).  This isn’t the slickest film in the world by any means, but while the kids engage in a lot of anti-social behavior, the film is obviously and overwhelmingly on their side, sympathizes tremendously with their troubled backgrounds, and is easily one of the best and heartfelt punk films ever made.

One of the best moviegoing memories from my youth was seeing “Suburbia’ in a packed midnight screening (with an audience full of mohawks and trenchcoats) with a good friend of mine and my friend’s Dad, who attended the screening with us since me and my friend were not legally able to drive.  The audience went completely nuts at the beginning of the film, when the wild dog attacks a toddler (one of the worst mannequin substitutes I’ve ever seen in any idiom), which isn’t funny, but kind of is in the context of the film and the audience.  My friend’s Dad (who, at the time, was roughly about my age now) took the film in stride, enjoyed himself, and later compared the film to “Rebel Without a Cause” on the ride home, which he highly recommended to us.  While I later saw “Rebel” and thought it a much superior film, I have a really soft spot in my heart for “Suburbia.”   It’s too bad Spheeris hasn’t made too many films recently.  A vastly underrated filmmaking talent.

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