Desperate Teenage Lovedolls (David Markey, 1984)
The only thing cooler than an all-girl punk band is a movie about an all-girl punk band, and they don't come much cooler than David Markey's 1985 super-8 extravaganza, Desperate Teenage Lovedolls.
All alienated teen Kitty Carry-All (Co-writer Jennifer Schwartz) wants to do is to get her band, The Lovedolls, together and rock L.A. "Rock L.A.?" asks her guitar-slinging pal, Bunny Tremelo (Hilary Rubens). "The Lovedolls are gonna rock the world!" But troubles at home send Kitty and Bunny to the dark streets of Hollywood, where they resort to panhandling and doing acoustic cover songs to survive.
When slimy record exec Johnny Tremaine (Steve McDonald from the cult band Redd Kross) sees their act, he tells them, "I think I can do for you girls what God did for mankind." Unfortunately, like Ronnie "Z-Man" Barzell in Russ Meyer's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Lovedolls' main inspiration), Tremaine has darker schemes in mind. Thanks to his machinations, the Lovedolls' debut album Electric Catbox tears up the charts.
Even though they're now stars, Kitty and Bunny's days on the streets still haunt them. Teen-girl street gang The She-Devils is out for revenge after Kitty stabbed their leader, Tanya Hearst, to death in self-defense. In the best TV teen movie tradition, it can only end in tragedy.
All that in less than an hour, and I haven't even mentioned the subplots involving original Lovedolls drummer Alexandria, her escape from a mental institution and subsequent slide into drug addiction, or Johnny Tremaine's acid freakout ("Have I frozen in time?!!"), or the solution to Kitty's domestic problems, which lead to the oft-quoted line, "Thanks for killing my mom!"
The young smart asses that make up the cast may sometimes have trouble keeping a straight face, but they've seen enough bad movies to know how to lay on the melodrama. Besides acting, Redd Kross' Steve and Jeff McDonald are also credited with "additional concepts," and contribute the classic theme "Ballad of a Lovedoll" (slicked up and reprised on Redd Kross' 1987 album Neurotica). But the musical highlight is the Lovedolls' smash hit single, which the girls lip-synch in its entirety during one single, sloppy, wonderful take.
Markey went on to direct 1991: The Year Punk Rock Broke, but, more importantly, he also masterminded the second part of the Lovedolls saga, 1986's Lovedolls Superstar.
Times Square (Alan Moyle, 1980)
Times Square was Saturday Night Fever producer Robert Stigwood's attempt to cash in on the seventies punk scene. Reportedly a very troubled production, with rewrites and re-cuts all the way down the line, it was a critical and commercial bust. Yet it has a surprising amount of heart beneath its cynical, pimply exterior.
The movie is set, fittingly enough, in New York City, where Pammy (Trini Alvarado), the daughter of a local politician, jots down her ultra-dramatic teen angst musings and sends them to late-night disc jockey Johnny LaGuardia (Tim Curry), who reads them on the air. Pammy suffers from off-screen seizures, diagnosed by her father as "mysterious teenage stress syndrome," and is sent to the hospital for tests. There she falls under the spell of her roommate, street kid Nikki Barada (Robin Johnson), an irrepressible free-spirit (or obnoxious freak, depending on how you look at it). Nikki swears at the doctors and plays "I Wanna Be Sedated" by The Ramones over and over again on her boom box.
Suitably inspired, the pair steals an ambulance, move into an abandoned seaside warehouse, and, with LaGuardia's encouragement, start their own punk band/performance art project/terrorist group called The Sleaze Sisters. Their big projects include dropping TVs off skyscrapers and performing tunes like "Damn Dog" and "Your Daughter Is One." A media firestorm whips up around them, even as the authorities (led by Pammy's dad) try to track them down. Can Nikki hang onto her sanity long enough for the big concert in the streets of Times Square?
As he proved with his later movies Pump Up the Volume and Empire Records, director Alan Moyle treats teen angst as a matter of life or death, just as teens do. The posturing gets a little irritating at times, but before you hold that against Times Square, try to remember how self-absorbed and self-righteous you were at fifteen. Though Moyle can nail the ugly truth about teens, it's his depiction of the movie's central location that comes off as the perverse lie. Two teenage girls struggling to live on the streets of Times Square sounds like a grim proposition for a movie, but this one takes place in a Times Square that never existed, neither before nor after Rudy Guliani's "cleanup." There are lots of big empty warehouses to crash in, cool stuff in the Dumpsters, and the streets are violence free. Worst of all is a truly sick subplot, in which the barely teenage Pammy applies for a job dancing in a strip club. One catch, though: she refuses to dance topless. When she lets the owner know this, he thinks it over and then says, "I like that! Class. Respect. Good for the club. Good for business." So Pammy goes to work, staying fully clothed and winning over the drunken patrons with that irrepressible free spirit that Times Square oozes from every frame.
That aside, the movie works thanks to Moyle's empathy for the main characters and the performances of Trini Alvarado and Robin Johnson. You really care about these kids by the end, and considering how grating Nikki was early on, that's saying something. After the first couple of scenes with her, I was hoping the doctor would prescribe shock treatments-painful ones.
Down and Out with the Dolls (Kurt Voss, 2000)
The roll call of fictional cinematic all-girl punk rock bands is long and varied, from The Stains (Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains) to The Lovedolls (Desperate Teenage Lovedolls; Lovedolls Superstar), to-hell, even the live-action Josie and the Pussycats (at least their songs were good). To this list add The Paper Dolls, rockin' Portland, Oregon in Kurt Voss' contribution to the genre, the comedy-drama Down and Out with the Dolls.
When she breaks up with her boyfrend/bandmate and gets booted from the band simultaneously, local scene goddess Fauna (Zoe Poledouris) rebounds by hooking up with a garage band led by her star-struck fan, Kali (Nichole Barrett). Calling themselves The Paper Dolls, the band moves in together, Monkees-style, and gets to work trying to make the magic happen. They survive the typical ego/creative conflicts to score a contract with the local indie label and make a name for themselves in the scene. But more serious trouble starts when Levi (Coyote Shivers), the leader of the scene's top band The Suicide Bombers, returns to Portland fresh from snagging a major label deal. Kali and Fauna both go after him, and critical mass is reached at a party at the Doll House amidst fistfights, embarrassing childhood photos, binge drinking, sudden death, and appearances by Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead as a guy crashing in the upstairs closet (like Lazlo from Real Genius).
Dolls takes the time to capture the feel of a local music scene, with its hierarchy of bands, the local labels, and indie record stores, and it all rings true. The cast (many of them real-life musicians) adds to the verisimilitude with their naturalistic and laid-back performances. Zoe Poledouris (who also wrote the catchy score) is especially great, projecting the obnoxiousness needed to portray a rock-star-in-her-own-mind-type.
Writer/director Kurt Voss is a frequent collaborator of Allison Anders, co-directing her first film, Border Radio, and the more recent Sugar Town. He also has a side career helming straight-to-video action flicks like Body Count (AKA Below Utopia), a cool action-noir starring Alyssa Milano and Ice-T. Voss shows real affection for all of the characters in Dolls as they wind in and out of various subplots, never allowing anyone, even Fauna, to come across as one-dimensional. The final "where are they now?" wrap-up is surprisingly big-hearted, too, making Down and Out with the Dolls the sweetest punk rock girl movie to date.