Saturday Night Spotlight #4: Susan Seidelman

Filmmaker Susan Seidelman (b. 1952), a self-professed “do it yourself” director, has a been a fixture of American film for over thirty years. A native of Philadelphia and a graduate of programs at Drexel University and NYU, Seidelman’s career has shown a style that is both smart and funny, focused in particular on female characters.

Smithereens (1982) – In Seidelman’s feature film debut, the late 70s/early 80s punk rock worlds of New York and Los Angeles are chronicled here in a story centered on a young New Jersey girl who leaves home and tries to insert herself into the lives of various people in the punk scene. Some mainstays of the punk and indie film scenes appear in acting roles, including Richard Hell, Amos Poe, Cookie Mueller (a veteran of several John Waters films) and John Doe. Seidelman served as producer and she edited the film herself.

Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) – The vibrant, uber-cool essence of downtown Manhattan is captured in this comedy of mistaken identities. Housewife Roberta (Rosanna Arquette) has an accident that causes a bad bout of amnesia, leading her and others around her to believe she is the flighty and flirty “Susan,” although the real Susan (Madonna) is being hunted down by some scuzzy creeps and criminals. As if the clothes worn weren’t cool enough, the soundtrack has plenty of pop and soul tunes by everyone from Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding to Carly Simon and Madonna herself.

She-Devil (1989) – After a decade of dramas like The Deer Hunter, Sophie’s Choice, Out of Africa, Ironweed and A Cry in the Dark, Meryl Streep took a decidedly different type of role in this comedy. Streep plays an egotistical romance novelist who steals away the husband of another woman (Roseanne Barr). Revenge-happy Roseanne is a lot of fun to watch, but it’s even funnier to watch Streep play such a vain, malicious character with an especial disdain for children.

Boynton Beach Club (2005) – Senior citizens are the protagonists of this Florida-set romantic comedy. Hollywood doesn’t usually make films focusing on characters who are 60 or older, but this film bucks the trend by starring Brenda Vaccaro, Dyan Cannon, Len Cariou, Joseph Bologna, Sally Kellerman, Michael Nouri and Renée Taylor. Seidelman has continued to make movies about how people relate to one another. Musical Chairs (2011) connects its characters through the love of ballroom and Latin dancing, while The Hot Flashes (2013) gathers a number of middle-aged women (Brooke Shields, Daryl Hannah, Virginia Madsen, Wanda Sykes, Camryn Manheim) together to form a basketball team.


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