Suburbia Collector’s Edition

Published on May 30th, 2010 in: DVD, DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews, Movie Reviews, Movies, Music, Reviews |

By Less Lee Moore

One weekend in 1986, a friend of mine invited me and a bunch of other freak friends over to watch Suburbia, Penelope Spheeris’ quasi-documentary look at the early ’80s punk scene. My memory is fuzzy on the details of the plot; I mostly remember being disturbed by the other movie we watched, Faces of Death. I do remember that everyone else in the group, some of whom looked somewhat similar to the punk teens examined in Suburbia, were merciless in mocking it; to this day, I still recall the particular scorn they heaped upon the T.R. “gang” depicted in the film, T.R. standing, of course, for “The Rejected.”

I had not seen Suburbia again until this latest Collector’s Edition DVD, so like with Rock ‘n’ Roll High School‘s reissue, I was curious to see if the movie was actually good (or what actually took place in the movie). I think it’s actually worse than I remembered.

suburbia dvd

Suburbia came out in 1983, just four years after Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, but a lifetime removed from the feeling of that film. During the time it took for the next round of kids to graduate from Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, the punk movement had changed drastically: all the vitality and humor was sucked out of it, to be replaced with the violent, macho, arrogant posturing of the hardcore scene.

If you think you know where this review is headed, you’re probably right. I’m sure there are those who will vehemently disagree, but Suburbia is just a bad movie. I know that Spheeris’ previous work, The Decline Of Western Civilization, which is an actual documentary of the punk scene in Los Angeles, is considered to be honest and relevant. Although I haven’t seen that in quite a few years, it’s still better than Suburbia.

The movie has been called “punksploitation” but how can you exploit kids who seem less like a representation of the punk movement and more like just a bunch of punks? It’s difficult to have sympathy or empathy for any of the characters: they are all annoying, abrasive assholes, yes, even the members of T.R., who are by turns, sexist, misogynist, homophobic, racist losers.

I get that they hate conformity and the suburbs and mainstream culture and capitalism; I’m no fan of those things myself, but they don’t provide even the glimmer of a hope for a viable alternative to those things. Despite the plethora of concert footage from bands of the time (D.I., The Vandals, T.S.O.L.), none of these kids seem to take any comfort or inspiration from music, seeming more interested looking the part.

The movie itself has a weak, implausible plot and I’m frankly stunned at how it received great reviews from Variety and The New York Times at the time, the latter calling it a “clear-eyed, compassionate melodrama” and “a good genre film.” Granted, these two publications are fairly mainstream themselves, but I’m somewhat horrified to think that they thought that this is what the punk scene was truly about.

If Suburbia had just injected a little bit of humor into its formulaic portrayal of these kids (the laughs found in the movie seem wholly unintentional), it would have been much more profound. Repo Man, which came out just a year later, is a comedy, but has more relevant commentary on about anti-consumerism in one scene than is found in all of Suburbia. Hell, the fake punks from Return Of The Living Dead seem more realistic, and they’re complete caricatures.

I’m not trying to shred your nostalgic memories of Suburbia; by all means, watch it and feel free to counter my opinions. Meanwhile, I’ll be watching Rock ‘n’ Roll High School again.

The Collector’s Edition of Suburbia was released on May 4 from Shout! Factory. The DVD includes a couple of commentary tracks from director Penelope Spheeris, producer Bert Dragin, and actress Jennifer Clay, plus a still gallery and trailers.

3 Responses to “Suburbia Collector’s Edition”

  1. K. Telle:
    May 31st, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    My friends and I watched this repeatedly and found lots of laugh – some intentional, some not. The acting (done by real punks, not actors perse) including an early stint for R.H.C.P. Flea, was awkward at best.

    The tone is dark and there are disturbing views and scenes. I’ll have to give it another viewing, but from my recollection ( owning an older copy) I think all of your points are valid. Some times as a midwestern outsider, you’ll even take the punks of Quincy to make you feel less alone.

  2. jemiah:
    June 8th, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Watched this again a couple of years ago, myself, and I agree too. Unintentional laughs are pretty much the only ones present in this movie, and I wish there were more of them. Still, Flea’s pretty great. But yeah, I’ll just watch REPO MAN some more.

  3. Popshifter » Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide To Punks On Film:
    January 30th, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    […] There’s an over the top adoration of Spheeris’s Suburbia (which I never have and still don’t understand), not to mention not nearly enough criticism for the practically abysmal Blank Generation (directed […]

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