Sleez Sisters Unite!
This 1980 theatrical flop/cult fave by director Allan Moyle (PUMP UP THE VOLUME) is a lost classic of New York punk romance -- an urban Tom and Huck adventure between two teen female runaways seeking love and meaning in the gnarled heart of the city. Filmed on location amid the ruined neon marquees and docks of seedy pre-Giuliani Manhattan, it also foreshadows the struggle that would transform the neighborhood in the next decades to a Disney-fied grotesque mall, its grimy soul melted away with the sleaze. Along with the later Stigwood-produced rock fable LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (1982), this film provided ground zero exploitation/inspiration for a new bunch of kids lost in a plastic world.
For Johnny LaGuardia (reliable Tim Curry), a ‘celebrity’ overnite DJ at rock station WJAD, Times Square serves as his muse, as he spins mellifluous odes to the filthy streets of Gotham as an Oz to be savored. Trini Alvarado is Pamela Pearl, his biggest fan and privileged daughter of the up-and-comer ‘liberal’ mayoral candidate, who rails against the dangers of letting the streets be –- fabricating fables about how he can’t take her to a movie safely on 42nd St.
Pamela protests the lies so Dad takes his emotional ‘troubled’ daughter to a hospital psych clinic for study, where she meets her rocker counterpart, Nicky Marotta (Joan Jett-like Robin Johnson), a streetwise juvie lifer who plays The Ramones’ “I Wanna be Sedated” on her duct-taped boombox in bed. After a few days, Nickie has left her mark on Pamela, inspiring her to write journal poetry and stuff. She persuades Pamela to stay off the meds cause they ‘take your fight away,’ and the two bust loose into the city.
Soon they are shacked up in a waterfront pier warehouse, coining the name The Sleez Sisters. Nicky finds Pamela a dancer job in the Cleopatra Club (“You don’t take yer clothes off – I like that.”) and begins writing her own poetry –- rock songs like ‘I’m a Damn Dog Now.” The Sisters exploit and provoke themselves to punk legend status through guerilla ‘street art’ like dropping TVs off tenement roofs and putting bandit masks on Pamela’s bus-side ‘missing’ posters. They even gleefully provoke their paranoid ‘grownup’ pursuers live on the air (to LaGuardia’s mutual benefit).
Pamela’s father eventually closes in to her whereabouts, locating her smoking onstage at the Cleo as the colored girls sing ‘Walk on The Wild Side.” She’s all grown up, daddy. Nicky (did we mention she’s troubled?) begins to realize that Pamela will return to her path on her terms, where she has nowhere to go but further out.
She lets LaGuardia have an exclusive scoop: They will stage an impromptu farewell show atop a marquee that night – their own ‘Let It Be’ moment, an underground spectacular hyped to those ‘in the know.’ We see a montage of chaotic female fans (the Sleez Army) roaming the streets, street vendors selling plastic trash bags as ‘Sleez Bags’ to the tourists. After performing a rousing ‘Damn Dog’ reprise, the cops come to shut them down, and Nicky says her goodbye, falling into the adoring arms of screaming girls as Pamela rejoins ‘civilization.’
TIMES SQUARE is more than another ‘cult classic’ with an amazing double-LP soundtrack (Roxy Music, Gary Numan, Suzie Quatro, etc.) It is a wide-eyed ode to the power of the city, youth, transformation and rock n’ roll – and it all seems like a fairytale now, which is alright by me.
Whatever happened to the Teenage Dream?