At about the midway point of Alan Moyle’s TIMES SQUARE (1980), we see our two leads – Pamela (Trini Alvarado) and Nicky(Robin Johnson) – dancing wildly to Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” on the sidewalks of the titular section of Manhattan. On their way, they pass marquees of the notorious 42nd street grindhouse cinemas, one offering Bruce Lee and the other offering HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN (1974). Upon passing the titles, the young women mimic martial arts moves and strangling motions, respectively, losing the already erratic rhythm they’ve established in the tracking shot thus far. TIMES SQUARE may not be about the neighborhood it is named after, but its structure, motivations and influences are as inspired by it as Pamela and Nicky are.
Released in 1980, TIMES SQUARE wouldn’t have the fortune – or misfortune – of being influenced by the 1980’s teen-movie mainstay of John Hughes or the more ribald nature of films like PORKY’S (1982) and FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (1982). Moyle’s film feels like a product from the decade prior; bombastic, honest and – perhaps most importantly – reckless. But, what really sets TIMES SQUARE apart from the coming of age films that would follow, or even those that came before, is that it would deal exclusively with the relationship of two young women. Not a group of boys and girls, or even a large group of the latter ala NOW AND THEN (1995), CLUELESS (1995) or MEAN GIRLS (2004) but just a pair. This is more rare than it seems, and strangely enough those that do exist tend to be more rebellious in spirit than those that pertain to a larger gathering: DAISIES (1966), LITTLE DARLINGS (1980), HEAVENLY CREATURES (1994), SHOW ME LOVE (1998), DICK (1999) and MY SUMMER OF LOVE (2004) are the titles that immediately spring to mind and each one is adamant about its transgressions.
TIME SQUARE is transgressive in unexpected ways with its mixture of equal parts female coming of age story and punk film, with politics regarding both present and accounted for. Up until this point, seeing a girl partaking in any type of rock music wasn’t a typical sight in cinema. Russ Meyer gave us Strawberry Alarm Clock in BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970), Allan Arkush gave us the character of Riff Randell in ROCK N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (1979) and Derek Jarman would put Siouxsie and the Banshees on screen in JUBILEE (1978). Outside of a few, the majority of punk – and rock, in general – films were predominantly male dominant, which unfortunately reflected the music industry at the time rather well.
Despite how progressive Moyle’s film can seem today – especially considering the type of coming of age cinema that followed – it is important to note that the relationship between Pamela and Nicky was intended to develop into a romantic one, but drastic changes were made at the behest of the producer, as revealed on the DVD’s audio commentary track with Moyle. Considering that romantic undertones are still present throughout the film, it was likely a large enough aspect of the finished footage that it could not be entirely cut around. That said, out of the other films listed above of which concern pairs of young women, at least half of them involve lesbian relationships or hint at them. And all of these films were released after TIMES SQUARE.
TIMES SQUARE was not a resounding success when it came out and the years have not necessarily been kind to it. Home video in the United States has been spotty, at best, with the most recent legitimate DVD release actually being from the UK. Luckily, it has been touring on the repertory circuit in 35mm rather regularly over the past few years – I’ve been able to catch it twice in NYC in the past two – and following recent series’ like BamCinematek’s Punk Girls as well as recent art-house successes like WE ARE THE BEST! (2013) and THE PUNK SINGER (2013), it seems ripe for re-discovery. But don’t take my word for it, because as TIMES SQUARE’s Sleaze Sisters say “Words are fucked.”