Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Johnny Suede

A couple of decades ago, I loved the Tom DiCillo movie Johnny Suede. I haven't seen it since, and recently watched it again. It's one of those time capsules of the early 90s urban lifestyle on the edge--the crappy apartments painted in peeling pastel pink and blue, filled with cast-off velvet furnishings and 1950s flea-market junk.



It stars a wee Brad Pitt with an unbelievably tall pompadour, and Catherine Keener still with a touch of baby fat. And it was filmed in Williamsburg, when it was a burnt-out wasteland of crumbling graffiti-covered buildings and weedy vacant lots.

In the book Breaking In, DiCillo said, "Originally, I was going to shoot the film in the East Village, because that was where the story had originated. But by that point the East Village was no longer the East Village I had known. It was now Starbucks, the Gap, and Banana Republic, so I had to come up with a fictionalized version of it in Williamsburg, Brooklyn."


Johnny calls a yuppie a "stupid fucking idiot."

At one point, Johnny sings a song that goes, "I wanna work in Midtown and wear a three-piece suit," because that was back when people talked about the yuppie lifestyle like it was different from the usual.



Tom DiCillo told Moviemaker: "We shot the film in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which back in 1990 really was not a place anyone was too eager to build a Starbucks in. Two weeks into shooting the assistant director came running up and cried, 'Someone left the wardrobe van unattended and all the costumes have been stolen!'

A day later they found the guys who’d stolen them. My relief was brief—about five seconds actually. The police informed us that the thieves had apparently liked Johnny’s clothes so much they were not returning them. The cops advised us if we wanted to continue shooting in Williamsburg we should accept these 'terms.'"

21 comments:

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

I saw that film one night in Santa Monica, CA after I had left NYC to work with Cirque Du Soleil in 1995-96. It was coming to the end of my roadie job with them, and watching the movie I realized how much I missed NYC. That fall I gladly came back, to nothing really, but it was great to be back, with all the dirt and lowlifes. But sadly I knew that the Lower East Side was changing, even back then, but nothing like the changes that were to come...

Sadly in two years I had my stroke and left for good.

S said...

I loved that movie & haven't seen it in years.
Alas, I think that this guy has it all mixed up in his head... I don't remember Starbucks & Gaps popping up to ruin the East Village in 1990... Hmmm.... Well, maybe that gap off of Lafayette was there (was it?), but didn't the St. Marks Gap pop up in 94, or so along with Kmart? Oops, looks like I can't remember, either....In 1990 the East Village still had loads of character. Not burnt out like the Williamsburg waterfront (where we had underground punk festivals in the wasted buildings), but was still a cool place.

Goggla said...

lol, that last bit about the stolen wardrobe is pretty funny.

BaHa said...

Gap opened on St. Mark's in 1988. Ruination? Can anyone buy everything used? Uh, no. Most of us were not that unhappy to see it and showed up every Tuesday, when stuff was marked down.

Jeremiah Moss said...

BaHa, i agree. a Gap, a Duane Reade here and there, etc., does not mean the end. it's the oversaturation that's trouble.

it's interesting that the overabundance of chain stores happened at a time of deregulation all around. it's as if the eco-system's "controls" were dropped and everything went overboard. now it's endless oil spills and a Chase on every corner.

can we go back to balance?

Anonymous said...

Whose definition of balance? Or are you suggesting that this is an objective measure?

BaHa said...

I would love to go back to balance, but the balance that seems to be happening is that of chains and luxury stores. That's ruination.

S said...

That was 1988??? I'm officially OLD & suffering from CRS. Yikes.

And does anyone remember that Vintage clothes shop w/ the big white dog on St. Marks? I think the dog may have been named Rosie, but I can't for the life of me remember the name of the vintage shop. Would have been next to the Stingy LuLu's spot.

Jeremiah Moss said...

here's an article about St. Mark's and that Gap: "IT WAS an odd day when, in March 1988, a Gap store opened up in space once occupied by the St. Marks Cinema. People on St. Marks Place laughed. What, they wondered, did the Gap have to say to the anarchistic spirit of St. Marks Place? What was next, Bloomingdale's?"

http://www.nytimes.com/1992/11/22/style/on-the-street-of-dreams.html

BaHa said...

Yes, the anarchistic spirit certainly existed. What that co-existed with was people who lived here because it was cheap--and sometimes they were one and the same. Even anarchists' kids need clothes. And they were no kids stores here at the time.

3FingersBrown said...

Great flick. Haven't seen it since I worked in a video shop back in '94 or so. I'll have to go back and check it out again. No mention of Nick Cave's ultra-cool appearance? He made the flick. Williamsburg was pretty neat in the 90's (I played a couple of those punk fests, S) but you could see the place becoming a yunnie hell before long. There was never the old sense of counter-culture tradition that the East Village had. It just seemed (to me at least) like old Italians, Puerto Ricans and industrial centers where people once worked were being displaced by artists from west bumblefuck.

From what I remember Gap was not a welcome sight on St. Marks. I can't remember one person who shopped there. Why would you? There were so many great, cheap places to shop all around back then. Starbucks replacing the Astor Cafe (and another one opening a block away!) was indeed a sad sign of things to come.

S, I remember the shop with the big white dog. Not sure the name. I bought some neat stuff there and I spent a lot of good times in Stingy Lulu's.

Sad times. I don't even venture into the east village (I don't need the agita and everything's overpriced) anymore unless there's free booze involved and even then I need my leg twisted. Can't wait to be able to afford to get far far away from this shell of a city...

BaHa said...

All the great cheap places were used clothes stores...and I draw the line at used underwear.

BaHa said...

And I also worked temp jobs then...most of the cool stores couldn't really tog me out for office work.

Anonymous said...

gosh, someone should program this for a weekend or something for a midnite screening with other stuff like this.

actually the director of desperately seeking susan has some earlier work that's interesting too that reminds me of this. i'd have to look it up....

also someone out there should try (like it's even possible) to ask mr pitt what he thinks of that now. did he learn anything interesting at all?
stef

S said...

I think the vintage shop may have been called "St. Marks Vintage." I got some great stuff in there, too. Owned by a nice Asian guy.

Stingy LuLu's once had great penne ala vodka for a small price. I often remember a guy dressed like an angel atop a GIANT old fashioned bike cruising around front.

I never saw Williamsburg going the way it did. I was offered a great space on Kent for $300, but it was sketchy at the time w/ lots of hookers & a barren walk to the subway, so I declined. Reg. the punk fests in the abandoned warehouses, I do remember one went on fire & the chinese restaurant across the street dragged hoses out. That kind of says it all! No need for firemen! We've got it covered!

You know, you can & should leave NYC to see if it works for you. I left for 4 years & gained loads of perspective. One of them being that i probably couldn't ever survive out of NYC. As much as the changes pierce my heart sometimes, that's just because it's seeing the death of my heyday, which is always sad. When you suck the NYC convenience away from me, I get disoriented & freak out. So with all of the changes, NYC is still home.

VisuaLingual said...

I was in high school 1988-1992, and I absolutely remember a Gap on the East side of St. Marks, and I think there was another one on Broadway, along with Banana Republic and/or Origins, or some such similar businesses. I clearly remember the relative "edginess" of spending time there when I was 14-15, versus its mainstreaming by the time I was graduating. Of course, someone older than me would smirk at what I thought was "cool East Village" at the time.

I've never seen Johnny Suede but now have to -- I actually went to junior high in Williamsburg, not much earlier than this was shot there.

Jeremiah Moss said...

you're right, S., i need a real break from the city. not sure how i'd do it, though. i envy the people who go away and come back with a fresh perspective.

S said...

VisuaLingual, I think people of all ages will have their time period of the East Village being cool up until the Giuliani years. Older people will smirk at you when you make your references, you'll smirk at those younger than you when they make theirs, but it reaches a certain period when ALL bits of character have been scrubbed away by the shadows of condos & when true creative vision is replaced with corporate "urban" art. When ALL mom & pops have to make way for chains. I think everyone can at least agree about that.

What I'm coming to realize is that everyone will miss their heyday & that's what we're mourning. My dad was sincerely upset when he went to visit his old Brooklyn neighborhood, because it was gone. Just a memory in his head. It was still true Brooklyn to the then current residents. And it's like seeing your memories killed & nobody wants that.

Jeremiah, DON'T envy those who get to leave & come back with fresh perspective. It's a HARD road to go down. It's never nice to long for home & it's never nice to feel jaded enough to leave. At the end of it all, you really have to learn to appreciate the greatness of NYC & keep reminding yourself that it's a privilege to live out our lifestyle. Only in NYC can we turn up our noses at seeing a ton of free live bands in the summer... It's the little things that you'd miss, like the 24 hour access to a bacon egg & cheese down the block & waiting for a subway instead of a shitty bus, or HAVING to drive. Mostly it's freedom of CHOICE that you'll find here & miss when you leave. We're SPOILED for choice, but we had a bigger side of freedom w/ our choice in the past.

That said, I still miss the way we were.
; )
NYC is a snake that continues to shed it's skin. It has always happened like this, we've got to learn to adapt. But hey, as New Yorkers, we WILL complain about it, because that's what we do.

Melanie said...

You need to get away to feel refreshed...go to the beach--go to Montauk and chill-if you can

Melanie said...

Hi Mick--New York is also a State Of Mind

3FingersBrown said...

I here you Jer. I need a break too. To be honest, after spending all my 35 years here, I need a complete change. I just have the gnawing feeling of not getting what I'm paying for these days and I don't think the convenience is worth it to me anymore. I know it's un-PC, but shit, I like to drive and have my own space as opposed to being stuck hearing the noise pollution of a million inane conversations and horrible ring-tone songs on the subways.

Maybe I would feel differently if I moved back to my old neighborhood in Queens and never had to leave - like my parents. However I live in Manhttan for the time being and work here and in Brooklyn for the most part, and I find less and less to love about the city every day. I hurts to say that, since I once so loved this city in all it's grimy splendor. Now I just feel like a dinosaur who should move on and find greener pastures where I'll make moonshine, raise Rotties and shoot off high-caliber weapons at my leisure.