Given the current recommendation to stay home and practice social distancing, we at the Chicago International Film Festival are looking at past selections from each year of the Festival that you can stream now from home. Stream our past selections as we look forward to the 56th Chicago International Film Festival this October 14-25, 2020. Find the full 56 Films for 56 Years selections here.
For today’s #56Films entry, we look to the American 1980s where Penelope Spheeris, the documentarian of underground punk culture who would go on to direct ’90s smash Wayne’s World, made her narrative feature debut with Suburbia which won the Gold Plaque for Best First Feature at the 19th Chicago International Film Festival.
Director: Penelope Spheeris
19th Chicago International Film Festival
Penelope Spheeris, best known today for 90’s comedies like Wayne’s World, got her start by exploring the counterculture punk rock music scene that exploded in the early ‘80s. Her first narrative feature film, 1983’s Suburbia, produced by Roger Corman, captured the essence of punk rock through following a group of misfits literally branded as TR (The Rejects), as they burn the letters onto their body when being initiated into the gang. The film opens with the character Sheila (Jennifer Clay), the “Wendy” figure of TR’s “lost boys”, running away from home on the highway, hitching away from her abusive father. We see her witness a savage accident that sets the tone for the rest of the film. We are then introduced to Evan (Bill Coyne), a suburban kid who is constantly verbally abused by his mother. He eventually joins Sheila as they find their way to TR, a group of children and teenagers seeking solace in the young punk rock community. As we follow this group of misfits, we see the surrounding suburban community begin to gather against them. The friction between the two groups leads to tragic moments. Peppered throughout the film are punk rock performances with lyrics from the artists that capture the savage tones of the film, such as, “Pat Brown. Gets real mean, when he’s in his machine. He’s no zero, he’s a f***ing hero.” (“Legend of Pat Brown”). The film would go on to win the Gold Plaque for Best First Feature at the 19th Chicago International Film Festival. — Rebecca Martin, Cinema Femme