Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Four Forgotten Teen Girl Flicks of the ’80s Cos' Molly What's Her Name Wasn't in Them

Written by Kevin Cooke
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The 1980s is generally considered the heyday of teen movies (whether this is fair or not is up for debate). Movies like The Breakfast Club, Say Anything, and Lucas are among the most well-regarded and genre defining. This can seem absurd when considering Rebel Without a Cause or Los Olvidado, which predate the decade, or post 80s classics, like Election or Dazed and Confused. But that is not the point of this article.  
The 1980s is generally considered the heyday of teen movies (whether this is fair or not is up for debate). Movies like The Breakfast Club, Say Anything, and Lucas are among the most well-regarded and genre defining. This can seem absurd when considering Rebel Without a Cause or Los Olvidado, which predate the decade, or post '80s classics, like Election or Dazed and Confused. But that is not the point of this article.

The point is that there are some forgotten, female-centered movies from that decade that have slipped through the cracks a bit in cult popularity. Some were about fifty times better than the popularly accepted "best." Heathers is used as the guide, as genre challenging and perpetually hip. Any movies under the radar of Heathers were selected, although Heathers's sustained popularity hardly makes movies slightly less remembered, terribly obscure, but... judge for yourself.

Out of the Blue,1980
Dennis Hopper had been slightly ostracized by the studio system for nine years following the debacle of The Last Movie, an underrated yet disaster of a drug-fueled production that nearly became his last movie. Opportunity knocked with the 1980s film Out of the Blue after the original director stepped down and Hopper, already starring, took over the directing reigns.

Taking its title from the Neil Young song "My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)," it's the story of Cebe (Linda Manz), a rough and tumble teenage girl who would probably prefer to adjust the lyrics “Rock and roll is here to stay” to “Punk rock—or maybe Elvis—is here to stay.”
 
The movie chronicles her struggles with her druggie mom (Sharon Farrell) and ex-con father, played by Hopper, who recently returned home from prison. He is the symbol of Cebe's hope for a better life, or at least some measure of happiness.

Cebe has no appreciation or even perception of authority, quite rightfully given the home she's born into. Hopper imagined Out of the Blue as a quasi-sequel to his own Easy Rider and hoped to portray the kinds of lives or parents Captain America or Billy might have gone on to live or be. He goes back to the same kind of earthy directing flair he had on that film and delivers a devastating performance of duality as the loving dad and frightening abuser.

The real coup of the production, though, is the casting of Manz. In a contest comparing the ratio of good or even great films per total made, perhaps no actor can compete with this natural tomboy. Her resume features her as costar and the aloof narrator of Terrence Malick's stunning Days of Heaven, Terror's sexually ambiguous girlfriend Pee Wee in the cult classic The Wanderers, and, of course, the "spaghetti mom" in Harmony Korine' s Gummo. She's always blunt, unflinching, and yet still distant—a total riddle. If Cebe were to meet Molly Ringwald at one of John Bender's heavy metal vomit parties, she would have kicked her ass or convinced her to sniff glue.

Note: Out of the Blue is not for the faint of heart. What could be construed as an over-the-top, hard to take finale is actually appropriate, as the movie is an indictment on bad parenting.

Streetwise, 1984
This 1984 documentary following the lives of various homeless teens in downtown Seattle is so  potent, so revealing, and so beautifully shot that many question its validity to this day. In 1983, along with writer Cheryl McCall, celebrated photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark photographed the lives of discarded children on Seattle's streets for Life Magazine. Pitching the idea as a documentary film to director Martin Bell, also her husband, Mark returned to Seattle with Bell to let the cameras roll on the subjects from the Life piece. The results are incredibly intimate, given the sometimes limiting aspects of filmmaking, and hence all the more tragically realized.

While the film covers many teenage subjects, one of the central and most memorable kids is Tiny: a fourteen-year-old waifish prostitute and daughter of a neglectful alcoholic. Naive to the abnormality of her lifestyle, yet with an adult-like wisdom due to the premature survival skills demanded of her, Tiny is the film's most realized subject. Hidden radio mics allow access to Tiny dealing with pimps and even love, like when fellow subject and dumpster diver Rat visits her in jail. Tiny still maintains a radiance, and even a kind of credulous sense of humor. In scenes with her mother, maturity seems reversed with Tiny showing the greater shrewdness.

Sometimes coming to the aid of Tiny is Lulu: a nineteen-year-old boisterous lesbian and volunteer arbiter of teen street battles. After a lifetime of abuse, Lulu turns the table on conflict and becomes a sort of pied piper for this band of homeless, taking on pimps and petty violence. She was stabbed by a man in the chest and died in the years following the release (as did about half the cast).

With forcefully bland attempts at supposed teenage "reality" (movies like American Teen), it is time to revisit the likes of Streetwise. And you can skip sensational teen angst films like Larry Clark's Kids, where real emotions seem unfashionable.

Note: Much investigation has concluded that Streetwise is, sadly, 100 percent documentary.

Foxes, 1980
Foxes features everybody's favorite non-lesbian-but-total-lesbian Jodie Foster with all of her well-known teenage acting virulence. If only she had never grown up, or at least not past age thirty-seven.

Foxes may seem cliché now, but it was one of the first of its kind. Like Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause, Foxes shocked audiences with its updated teenage angst, in this case particularly female angst. And who better to fill James Dean's brutally honest role than a young Jodie Foster? Following her scene stealing roles in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver and Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (and to a lesser degree the eerie gem The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane), Foster gets her just rewards in this starring role.
 
This coming-of-age film set in the San Fernando Valley has everything you'd want in a teen movie: drugs, sex, booze, death, abuse, and even skipping some fuckin' school. Following mold-breaking but male-centric films of the late seventies, like Over the Edge, Foxes is like that movie if they covered Cory, the gun-wielding girl in the abandoned house, rather than Matt Dillon and the boys.

The first feature by Adrian Lyne, before his Fatal Attraction and Jacob's Ladder fame, possesses his trademark astute realism. Fading sun-drenched Cali afternoons don't feel nostalgic, but rather melancholic and hopeless. What could have been a tidy story of young female exploration in a superficial bubble becomes a film rooted in the teen quagmire, reflecting its subject's dysfunctional home and social lives.

There's some amateur style acting and a slight lack of nuance, but the film still holds up and benefits from its flaws with the passage of time. For those of you longing for something closer to home than 1989's The Shag, this one's for you. Although, in fairness, The Shag is probably more obscure.

Note: Giorgio Moroder soundtracks are always worthwhile.

The Legend of Billie Jean, 1985
Of note because movies this ridiculous really ought to be more remembered. Whereas the  previous three relied on adjectives like raw, real, poignant, etc., The Legend of Billie Jean is an absurd and over-the-top attempt to create a legend rather than see if one develops through honest storytelling. Why it's worth remembering is maybe for all the wrong. It represents: a sort of MTV pop version of feminine power, or the even more generic, the idea of a youth revolution, a rehashing of cheesy Who lyrics. It serves as a historical note and has fittingly aged horribly, but hilariously.

Helen Slater
, one of the worst actresses of all time, is perfectly cast as Billie Jean, a Texas teen who is wrongfully accused of a crime with her brother, played by Christian Slater (no real-life relation). Through a number of ridiculous circumstances not worth mentioning, she is somehow thrust into the media spotlight as an instant “rebel girl,” a leader of a generation who isn't gonna take shit from anyone...but no one group in particular, just bad people in general.

By merely cutting her hair short, a shortcut to riot grrrl empowerment, she is instantly iconic in the minds of the filmmakers. A series of unrelated badass moments follows into a laugh-out-loud finale--a media frenzy created on 1985 technology apparently more potent than the Internet. Watch this as a lesson in history. Learn from its mistakes, or just to laugh really hard.

Note: My friend's dad directed this movie, so I hope neither he nor my friend read Sadie.

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