Friday, May 23, 2014

"Well, I wouldn't throw Brian Eno out of bed": Two Films Watched

Whatever Happened to Susan Jane (1982) is built from a remarkable conceit. Director Marc Huestis found a 16mm educational short called The Outsider (which you can watch in its entirety here) in the trash and staged a camp coup by imagining an update to its tale of unpopular teenager Susan Jane. With scenes from The Outsider edited in as flashbacks, Whatever Happened to Susan Jane finds our heroine long past her awkward years living a bohemian lifestyle in San Francisco. A sympathetic friend from The Outsider years, Marcie Clark, comes to visit Susan Jane after ditching her square, married-with-children life in Virginia. Initially put off by this intrusion from her gawky past, Susan Jane introduces Marcie to her queerpunk friends and now Marcie feels like the outsider.

Huestis uses almost all of The Outsider in his 60-minute film and with a 15-minute club sequence as its centerpiece, Whatever Happened to Susan Jane has a lopsided feel to it. There's just not enough time to develop any of its conceits. But that's finally what gives the film its queerpunky edge, alternating between fabulous stasis and racing energy. That club sequence is a question mark-inducing bacchanal featuring a performance by The Wasp Women and a reporter who asks an 18-year-old guy if he's experimenting with sex ("Well, I wouldn't throw Brian Eno out of bed"). Later, the reporter is (hilariously) accosted by two children (why?). The music (by Noh Mercy, Tuxedo Moon, D-Day, etc.) is pretty bad - conceptual shtick in desperate need of a song doctor. But it competes obnoxiously with much of the dialogue further cementing the film's punk credentials. No lost masterpiece but much better than the evening's other flick.

Valley of the Dolls (Mark Robson, 1967) has got to be the most boring "camp classic" of all time. It's kept me off the four-hour 1981 mini-series version although I remember with fondness the 1994 short-lived soap and would kill to see it again. So why I expected anything life-affirming from the subsequent Jacqueline Susann adaptation The Love Machine (Jack Haley Jr., 1971) is beyond me. Filmmakers casting about for cognitive dislocations to emulate might want to observe how an utterly unheralded Hallelujah Chorus scores a scene in which Jackie Cooper triumphs over TV executives. Otherwise, there's no use value in this pitiful piece of floating wood. Terrible, overly narrative-driven Dionne Warwick theme song, godawful lead performance by John Phillip Law, crummy fashion show from which I can screen grab nothing, acres of homophobia, etc. And Once is Not Enough is supposed to be more boring?!?

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