God Save The King: Tom DiCillo’s 1977 Student Film Started His Career

Tom DiCillo
A few months ago, one of my favorite award-winning filmmakers, Tom DiCillo – (Living in Oblivion, Delirious, When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors) considered one of the founding fathers of New York independent film – found one of his student films, GOD SAVE THE KING.

GOD SAVE THE KING was DiCillo’s first sync sound film when he was in NYU film school. Back in 1977, student films were shot on real film and the move from silent to sound was considered a huge step. The original 16 mm print was recently discovered in a box under a bed in the basement of a juvenile correctional institution near Miami.

DiCillo wrote and directed the film, starring Liz Roker, Jay McCormack and Joe d’Angerio in his 2nd year at NYU. It was loosely based on an incident that had happened to him one steamy August night a few months earlier. The punk movement was in full spasm. For some performance photos needed for the film he went to CBGB’s one afternoon and they let him shoot Joe and Jay on the stage for 20 minutes.

After graduation DiCillo decided for some reason to scrape some money together and re-edit the film. He added titles, did a sound mix and made something that was almost unheard of for an ex NYU student with no job–a real 16mm print.

Eight years later when he submitted his first screenplay Johnny Suede to the National Endowment for the Arts, DiCillo sent the print of God Save The King as an example of his work. They gave him $25,000.

A year later he submitted the Johnny Suede screenplay to the Sundance Director’s Lab. Once again, he sent this only print of God Save The King as a directing sample. He got accepted.

In some ways you could say this little film started Tom DiCillo’s career.

(Published with permission from Tom DiCillo.)

Book Review: Just Kids by Patti Smith Is a Masterpiece

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Book Review
Title: Just Kids
Author:  Patti Smith
Publisher: Ecco
Released: October 24, 2010
Pages: 306
ISBN-10: 0060936223
ISBN-13: 978-0060936228
Stars:  5.0

Like Patti Smith, I grew up writing poetry and listening to rock’n’roll. That is where the similarity ends because I am not an artist, only an appreciator of them. Although I haven’t read Arthur Rimbaud or Jean Genet, nor have I yet been to Paris, I have always been captivated by the music of the 70s and the writings of Sam Shepard, Jim Carroll and Jim Morrison. I had no idea that Shepard and Carroll were Smith’s lovers but reading the dreamy, tender narrative of her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe surprised me in many ways, including the fact that he was also her lover, because I knew he was openly gay. Until now, I haven’t known very much about Patti Smith except that some of my friends are big fans of hers, she’s collaborated with Springsteen (one of my music heroes), and that her poetry, music and art earned her a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.

I often dream of where I’d go if I had my own hot tub time machine and New York City during the late 60s/early 70s is definitely one of the places I’d choose. Patti Smith was born almost 20 years before me, but I’ve listened to and loved a lot of the music that was created by her contemporaries (in particular, The Doors and Janis Joplin) and have been a fan of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography for a long time. However, she has made me appreciate his work with new eyes and I’m grateful for that. Reading Smith’s autobiography Just Kids is the next best thing to using a hot tub time machine as she has written an exquisite account of her early years as a struggling artist and Mapplethorpe’s muse.

From 1967 to 1978, Patti shares her memories of their lives in New York City and specifically at the infamous Chelsea Hotel, a dreamscape so perfectly realized and vividly fascinating that you feel as if you’re there with them. We meet many legendary artists including William Burroughs, Andy Warhol, Sam Shepard and Tom Verlaine, although none of them holds a candle to the flame that is the telling of the birth of Smith’s and Mapplethorpe’s artistic legacy.

Patricia Lee Smith was born in Chicago on December 30, 1946 and was part of a close knit family that included her siblings Linda, Todd and Kimberly, who later relocated with their parents to South Jersey. What struck me about Patti that I wasn’t expecting is that she’s a very down-to-earth, deeply spiritual person and was never a drug addict as one who hasn’t known her might imagine based on her skinny heroin chic look and the time in which she came of age and became famous for being a punk rocker poet. In researching her for this review, I discovered that we share a very similar view of religion as well:

I believe there is good in in [sic] all religions. But religion, politics and business, all of these things, have been so corrupted and so infused with power that I really don’t have interest in any of it – governments, religion, corporations. But I do have interest in the human condition. (Rolling Stone)

Patti’s love for Robert Mapplethorpe was utterly pure and transcended any boundaries that society might have wanted to instill upon them. Although they weren’t meant to be together as husband and wife, they were most certainly soul mates (regardless of her marriage to MC5 guitarist Fred Sonic Smith) up until his tragic death at the age of 42. On March 9, 1989 Robert died from complications due to AIDS. Her recollection of his passing within the pages of this book brought me to tears. Just Kids opens with the phone call she received from Robert’s brother Edward telling her that he had finally succumbed to his illness, at which moment she was listening to Tosca’s “Vissi d’arte”, and it ends with her making peace with having to say goodbye. (“Smile for me Patti, as I am smiling for you.”) In between, we get to know Robert Mapplethorpe as intimately as a stranger can and develop an understanding of what inspired him as an artist as she traces “their first meetings (there were two of them before one fateful night in Tompkins Square Park) to their days in and out of hotels, love affairs, creative collaborations, nightclubs, and gritty neighborhoods…” (Interview Magazine)

Just Kids is a masterpiece, filled with iconic black and white photographs of Smith and Mapplethorpe, including some of their art and a few of Smith’s poems as well. She’s a very gifted poet and although I confess that I was never a big fan of her music aside from “Because The Night” and “Power To The People”, (I was 11 when Horses was released) I’m listening to it now with new ears and would love to read more of her poetry and song lyrics because this book has made me fall for her…hard. I now understand why she has endured and why there will never be another female rock artist like her. Anyone who can write a memoir that inspires someone to discover their career forty years after it began deserves to be the national treasure that Patti Smith is.

DVD Review: The Runaways

Title: The Runaways
Director: Floria Sigismondi
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Kristen Stewart, Michael Shannon
Length: 106 minutes
Studio/Distributor: Sony
Released: July 20, 2010
Stars: 3.0

I love rock’n’roll movies and particularly 70s nostalgia (don’t miss Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine). Revisiting the history of female rock stars, Cherie Currie and Joan Jett, in The Runaways featuring Dakota Fanning as glam, Bowie-loving Currie and Kristen Stewart as butch punk Jett was fun and made me want to turn up the juke box, baby! Based on the book ‘Neon Angel’ by Currie, The Runaways showcases the rise and fall of a band of anorexic adolescent chicks who just wanted to play rock’n’roll like bad boys Iggy Pop and the Sex Pistols.

I wasn’t a fan of The Runaways and didn’t know about them until after Joan Jett made it big with her classic hit ‘I Love Rock’n’Roll’, but the first thing I noticed about both lead characters is their almost complete lack of emotion throughout much of the film. The girls look great in character (Stewart & Fanning are considerably more attractive than the original duo) but the personalities of both Currie and Jett are as one dimensional as the celluloid they’re presented on. Stewart and Fanning are two talented young actors who have given much more interesting performances in other films so I can only assume that the fault lies with the director. Of the pair, Stewart shines when she finally lets go and spews forth the passion Jett has for music, but Fanning barely cracks a smile throughout the entire movie as her character is stoned for most of it. Her defining moment is her rendition of ‘Cherry Bomb’ in Japan.

These lesbian lovers were clueless about the music industry and seriously manipulated by their scary glam manager, Kim Fowley, played with sharp, bared teeth by the gifted Michael Shannon. The Runaways didn’t have a lot of talent but they had attitude and the right look for Fowley’s sleazy marketing campaign. The annoying, sinister Fowley meets Joan Jett who wants to start an all-girl band. He introduces her to drummer Sandy West (Stella Maeve) and together they scour LA nightclubs looking for the next young Bridget Bardot look-a-like to front the band. They find Currie at Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco and later hook up with Lita Ford (Scout Taylor-Compton) who was the best musician in the band. The rest is history although we know nothing about West, Ford or Jackie Fox (‘Robin’ in the movie) as there was little to no cooperation from them in the making of this movie which was executive produced by Jett (who surprisingly adds nothing in the way of special features on the DVD).

As The Runaways developed as artists – signing a contract with Mercury Records to play rock’n’roll in a man’s world and landing a hit single with ‘Cherry Bomb’ – the conflict with Fowley grew. He believed that they owed all of their success to him and were simply his employees but plagued by family drama and the pressures of rock stardom, Currie soon reached the end of her rope and told him where to go. Jett and Currie inevitably lived the sex, drugs & rock’n’roll cliché and Currie in particular paid the price as she fell heavily into an alcohol and drug-hazed world. At 17-years-old, Currie was already a burnt out has-been. In real life, she is now a chainsaw artist.

Director Floria Sigismondi captures the look and sound of the 70s and a cool soundtrack features songs by Nick Gilder, Suzi Quatro, The Stooges, David Bowie, Sex Pistols, and respectable performances by Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning as well as the original Runaways and Joan Jett. However, neither Cherie Currie nor Joan Jett were or are great rock vocalists and The Runaways only lasted for a couple of years (1975-1977), finding their greatest success in Japan.

Of note is the solid film debut of Elvis’ granddaughter Riley Keough as Marie Currie, and a brief cameo by Tatum O’Neal as Currie’s actress mother.

The DVD has few special features but includes a brief but interesting making-of-the-film vignette with the principal members of the cast, filmmakers, and Cherie Currie.

The Runaways was made with Joan Jett’s blessing and Jett and The Blackhearts deserve their place in rock’n’roll history, for having the passion, persistence and balls to realize their own vision. For Jett, The Runaways was only a brief blip on the radar of her career, but for Currie, it was her 15 minutes of fame.