Tag: Desperately Seeking Susan

August 6, 2017 / / Main Slate

Director Susan Seidelman described Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) as “not an art film, but not mainstream,” which nicely encapsulates offbeat ‘80s American independent films, especially the deadpan comedies with their distinctive tone and sensibility. The film, starring Rosanna Arquette and Madonna, fits into multiple contexts besides ‘80s independent film, such as screwball comedy, women’s film, and stories of mistaken identity. Other directors working in a similar style at the time include Jim Jarmusch with Stranger Than Paradise (1984) and Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki with his American-set Leningrad Cowboys Go America (1989). Both Seidelman and Jarmusch had attended film school at NYU and set their first films in New York, and their early films share certain similarities. Besides the laid-back style, deadpan humor, and laconic dialogue, musicians rather than trained actors were given key roles. Seidelman cast not only Madonna but also Richard Hell and Richard Edson, while Jarmusch cast John Lurie (who also appears briefly in Desperately Seeking Susan), Richard Edson, Tom Waits, Joe Strummer, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in his 1980s films. The tone of their films stands in stark contrast with the excessive, melodramatic, unironically kitschy sensibility of many major ‘80s films. Some critics were receptive to the film’s style, praising Desperately Seeking Susan as laid-back, quirky, cool, ironic, unsentimental, and pithy. Seidelman’s film reappropriated earlier screwball comedy conventions such as amnesia, which allowed repressed characters such as Roberta to act out.