• Suburbia (Roger Corman Classics)

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: 5/11/2010
    Director: Penelope Spheeris
    Cast: Chris Pederson, Bill Coyne, Jennifer Clay, Mike B. The Flea, Andrew Pece
    Year: 1983
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    The Movie:

    Written and directed by Penelope Spheeris, 1983’s Suburbia, bankrolled by Roger Corman, allowed the woman behind The Decline Of Western Civilization step out from under the documentary umbrella a little bit and try her hand at a dramatic feature, though one which stays close to the eighties punk material that she made a name for herself with.

    The film follows a teenage named Evan Johnson (Bill Coyne) who finally gets fed up with his abusive alcoholic mother and leaves home. Broke and alone on the mean streets of Los Angeles, he wanders into a club where D.I. are playing and after unwittingly taking some drugs and puking outside the venue, meets a kid named Jack Diddley (Chris Peterson). Jack and Evan become friends and before you can say dirty squatters Evan’s moved into the abandoned house that Jack and the rest of his crew, who call themselves The Rejected (or, TR for short) have made into their home.

    When Evan’s mom gets arrested for felony drunk driving, he goes and gets his little brother, Ethan (Andrew Pece), and moves him into the house with the rest of his new friends. As the Johnson brothers get acquainted with their new family – an angry skinhead named Skinner (Timothy O’Brien), an abused and broken girl named Sheila (Jennifer Clay), the disenfranchised son of a homosexual father who calls himself Joe Schmoe (Wade Walston), a guy with a pet rat named Razzle (Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers), a pair of inseparable girls named Mattie (Maggie Ehrig) and T’resa (Christina Beck), and a dope dealer named Keef (Grant Miner) – the local rednecks start to pay more attention to the kids. It seems that since they’re out of work they’ve got nothing better to do than pick on those that they don’t understand based on their looks and what they represent. As the kids go about their lives, making a few mistakes along the way, they butt heads with cops, concerned parents, and gun toting suburbanites out to keep their neighborhood safe.

    Suburbia probably had more of an impact on those who saw it in the early eighties than it will on modern audiences. At the time this film was made, the hardcore punk movement was manifesting itself in dumpy houses and grimy clubs around the country (the two most obvious examples being the Dischord House that spawned Minor Threat and Skinhead Manor that was home to Youth Brigade for a short period of time). The film still speaks to proud anti-socialites and those who don’t want what society wants for them but in a day and age where The Clash are considered classic rock and bands like Rancid get radio play, it might be difficult for those who weren’t there to relate to the kids in the film.

    That said, anyone who has ever felt out of place or questioned the reality of ‘The American Dream’ should be able to get something out of the film. It does deliver some interesting characters and offer up a fairly believable portrait of the Los Angeles punk rock scene of the time, from run-in’s with guys in Cameros to cops who will stop them based solely on their appearance. The highly touted live footage, which is made up of performances from T.S.O.L., D.I., and The Vandals, only amounts to a few minutes and so those expecting something more akin to Spheeris’ earlier documentary may be disappointed on that level (the first time I saw it that’s what I was expecting and when it was over and done with I was underwhelmed simply because the film was not what I expected – in hindsight, it was a narrow minded judgment call on my part) but Suburbia, as dated and at times hokey as it can be, actually does hold up rather well.

    Most of the performances are good - even if Peterson only seems to have one facial expression and O’Brien is always in ‘angry skinhead mode’ – and the movie is paced well. The camera work does a pretty good job of capturing the grit and the grim of the TR House and it definitely gets the look and attitude of its characters right. Time isn’t always kind to the movie, but there’s enough here that works that, dated or not, the film still feels relevant and, thanks to its themes, probably always will.


    Shout! Factory presents Suburbia on DVD in a good 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Properly flagged for progressive scan playback, it features a healthy and welcome coat of grain and some minor specks here and there but is otherwise as clean as it needs to look. There aren’t any problems with compression artifacts or edge enhancement and the dirty aesthetic that the filmmaker’s obviously wanted to capture is still here, just as it should be.

    The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track sounds crisp and clear. There are no problems with hiss or distortion to note and the levels are well balanced. Dialogue is always easy to understand and just as importantly the live performances have just the right amount of kick (particularly the T.S.O.L. bits). No alternate language tracks or subtitles are supplied, however.

    When Suburbia was originally released on DVD by New Concorde is had a commentary track from writer/director Penelope Spheeris. The good people at Shout! Factory have carried over that track and if you haven’t heard it before, it’s worth listening to. Spheeris has got a decent sense of humor about her work here and is able to recognize what does and doesn’t work about the picture while telling us how this project came to be and explaining how her background helped her out with this project. She talks about the cast and crew and the bands that appear in the film and also discusses some of the themes that the film plays around with.

    Exclusive to this new release from Shout! Factory is a second audio commentary track from Spheeris who is joined by Producer Bert Dragin and Actress Jennifer Clay. Spheeris starts this new track off by dissecting the opening scene with the dog and the baby and talks about how some of the sound effects were done before going on to talk about the casting of the picture. Dragin and Clay don’t have nearly as much to say about the film as Spheeris does, chiming in occasionally but not contributing as much Spheeris does. They don’t really talk over the live footage and there are gaps of silence here and there but it is interesting in spots – if you’ve ever wanted to know about the inner workings of cockroach wrangling, this is the track for you.

    Rounding out the extras on the disc are a still gallery, a couple of trailers for the feature, trailers for a few other Corman releases like Rock N Roll High School, Piranha and Death Race 2000, animated menus and chapter selection. Inside the case is a two sided color insert with a note from Roger Corman and some production credits on one side and an advertisement for other Shout! Factory Roger Corman Classics releases on the opposite side.

    The Final Word:

    The new commentary doesn’t add as much as you’d expect it to but this is still definitely a disc worth owning. Shout! Factory has carried over the pre-existing extras in addition to the new track and done a very nice job on the audio and video quality which should make fans of Suburbia pretty happy. All in all, a more than decent effort!