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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Smithereens (Blu-ray)
Smithereens (Blu-ray)
Criterion // R // August 21, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted August 10, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Directed by filmmaker Susan Siedelman on location in New York City and released in 1982, The Smithereens features actress Susan Berman in the lead role of a woman named Wren. She is a reasonably obnoxious young lady in her late teens/early twenties who really wants to start up her own band. She's got plenty of ideas and a spunky attitude, but the problem is she doesn't really seem to have what it takes to make that happen. Soon she meets a nice guy named Paul (Brad Rijn) who has just wandered into town from the Midwest. He's low on prospects but high on charisma, even if he does sleep in his van in a crappy old parking lot in a rough part of Manhattan.

Paul falls for Wren fast and hard and is pretty much willing to do anything for her right off the bat. Call it infatuation, call it puppy love, whatever you want… but he digs her something fierce. They eventually go out on a date but Wren just isn't feeling the same vibes. In fact, she's far more interested in rock ‘n' roll bad boy Eric (played by real life rock ‘n' roll bad boy Richard Hell). Sadly for Wren, Eric is a user and a loser and really seems more interested in sponging off of her more than he is in engaging in anything remotely resembling a relationship.

Wren bounces back and forth between the two guys for a good part of the movie, not really sure what to do about any of this. Eventually she gets put into the position where she chooses between the two men, and it affects her dismal life.

The film is almost completely character driven. The story isn't exactly intense or riddled with action and excitement and the film is more about the people in it than what happens to them. The characters, while not exactly a loveable group, are interesting though and all three of the main leads do a respectable job (Richard Hell was more or less just playing himself here).

A big part of The Smithereens focuses on Wren's self-esteem issues. She's intent on making everyone believe that her life could be better if she wanted it to be, even though in reality she's a bit of a loser without much ambition. She's got her head in the clouds as far as her music career goes and the prospects in her life as far as the men she's hanging around aren't a whole lot better at first either. She uses people in much the same way that Eric does, though sees herself as a far better person than she sees him. In short, she's a bit of a bitch. At the same time, she feels like a real person, and that's a big part of the movie's appeal. Susan Berman is very good in the role. She's completely believable here, he character comes off as rebellious and aloof but in realistic ways rather than as any sort of ‘punk movie cliché.' Despite her many and obvious flaws, Wren is at least interesting to get to ‘know' during the course of the film. We may not always like what she does or how she treats people but we do want to know what's going to happen to her, which is a testament not only to the quality of how Siedleman and company wrote the character but also to Berman's acting skills.

A strong score and a soundtrack featuring contributions from The Feelies, The Nitecaps, The Raybeats, and of course Richard Hell And The Voidoids among others, helps to propel the film. There's good momentum here, it's never dull, even when it's little more than characters sitting around talking or simply complaining about things. Anyone who ever felt disenfranchised in their younger days should have no trouble relating to the people in the picture. Additionally, the New York City locations couldn't be more perfect for the picture. Shot entirely in less than glamourous parts of Manhattan, the tough streets and grubby structures that populate them make the perfect backdrop for the drama and humor that comes through in the story.

Director Susan Siedelman would later go on to some acclaim with her directorial duties on the Madonna film Desperately Seeking Susan and the HBO series Sex In The City. She also directed Rosanne Barr in She-Devil, so her career has taken some interesting turns since this, her debut feature, was made!

The Blu-ray:

Video:

The Smithereens comes to Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection properly framed at 1.66.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer on a 50GB disc. This was shot on 16mm and it shows, the image is quite grainy, but that's not a bad thing. It's resolved nicely here and gives the movie an appropriately gritty, authentic film-like appearance that will definitely please purists. Detail advances quite nicely over the old DVD release in pretty much every frame of the film. Skin tones look nice and natural and color reproduction seems accurate. Black levels are quite strong and while some minor white specks appear here and there (though quite infrequently) the picture is thankfully free of any major print damage. This was never a glossy production to begin with, and those familiar with the film should appreciate the fact that even on a nicely restored Blu-ray edition such as this that gritty aesthetic is still retained. There's no evidence of obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement issues nor are there any problems with compression artifacts.

Sound:

The English language LPCM 2.0 track also shows its low budget roots, but for the most part it sounds quite good. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Don't expect this one to blow your speakers but again, Criterion offer up what can accurately be described as a ‘true to source' representation of the film's sound. Things do lean towards the flat side but dialogue is clean, clear and properly balanced. There are no issues with any hiss or distortion, the track is pretty clean. The score sounds decent as well and features some period new wave and punk tracks on the soundtrack.

Extras:

Susan Seidelman (and moderator David Gregory) gives a pretty interesting full-length audio commentary over top of the film that has been carried over from the 2004 Blue Underground DVD release. Seidelman gives a lot of information on the preproduction that went into making the film happen, and explains a lot of the casting choices making mention of a few people, some famous and some not, who were also considered for a few of the roles in the movie. Whenever she seems to run out of things to say, David pops in with another question or two and the track runs along at a nice pace and never seems too crammed or too vapid..

New to this disc is a forty-one-minute interview with Seidelman and actress Susan Berman. They look back on the movie pretty honestly, recalling what it was like shooting in New York City at the time, what influenced the film, what it was like collaborating with some of the other performers, the music in the film and quite a bit more. It's an interesting piece and worth checking out.

Criterion also includes two of Siedelman's early short films made while she was a student at NYU, And You Act Like One Too, which runs twenty-five-minutes and was made in 1976, and Yours Truly, Andrea G. Stern, a thirty-eight-minute piece from 1979. Optional introductions from the director are also included. These are both interesting to see and worth additions to the disc as they provide a look at the evolution of her directorial style. Both were shot in New York in the late seventies and have a similar vibe to the feature attraction.

The disc also comes packaged with an insert booklet that contains an essay by critic Rebecca Bengal as well as technical notes on the presentation and credits for both the film and the Blu-ray release.

Final Thoughts:
The Smithereens is a pretty decent counter culture snapshot of New York in the early eighties. The soundtrack is a lot of fun and while the performances border on hammy sometimes, they fit the feel of the story. The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray debut provides a nice upgrade over Blue Underground's DVD and the extras are quite interesting. Recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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