Release Date(s)1980 (May 24, 2022)
Studio(s)Associated Film Distribution (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B+
A decade before director Allan Moyle achieved cult glory with his pirate radio drama Pump up the Volume, he had already explored using rock music to address youth alienation in his sadly neglected 1980 film Times Square. Unfortunately for Moyle, he had also made a deal with the devil in the form of producer Robert Stigwood, and as a result, the film that was released in the theatres in 1980 wasn’t what he originally intended. Stigwood was far more interested in having a marketable soundtrack album than he was in the film itself, and when Moyle wasn’t amenable to the changes that he wanted to make, he fired the director late in the production. Stigwood ended up adding more songs, re-shooting some material, and softening the lesbian relationship at the heart of the film by eliminating some crucial scenes. Yet while the final product may not have been the film that Moyle set out to make, it’s still a fascinating portrait of alienation and rebellion, showing how our lives can be saved by rock and roll.
Moyle based the story for Times Square on a diary he had discovered inside of a used couch that he had purchased. The young woman who wrote it described her own struggles with mental illness in a candid fashion, and Moyle drew inspiration from her when he created his own characters. The final shooting script, written by Jacob Brackman, centers around the relationship between Nicky (Robin Johnson) and Pamela (Trini Alvarado). Nicky is a genuine outsider who lives on the streets, and Pamela is the troubled daughter of a local New York City politician who wants to clean up those streets. The two teenagers meet each other while undergoing mental health screenings, and they end up going on the run together. While Pamela’s father (Peter Coffield) searches for her, their adventures are chronicled by a maverick radio disc jockey (Tim Curry), who encourages their attempts to create an underground punk movement as The Sleez Sisters.
While Stigwood may have done everything in his power to commercialize Moyle’s original plans for Times Square, including cutting the overtly lesbian content, he was still powerless to neuter the relationship between Nicky and Pamela that drives the film. It’s a lovely dynamic regardless of whether or not their love is explicit or implicit, and the most important thing is that they both encourage each other to find the strength within themselves. Johnson and Alvarado are wonderful in their roles, especially the neophyte Johnson, who is an unstoppable force of nature despite the fact that this was her first acting job. Their chemistry is real, and it shines through no matter how hard that Stigwood tried to obscure it.
Even the music survived Stigwood’s interference. A few of the songs that he added to the film are wildly inappropriate, but it’s still a memorable soundtrack—there are great songs here from the likes of Roxy Music, XTC, The Pretenders, Talking Heads, the Ramones, the Patti Smith Group, and Lou Reed. Times Square also provides an invaluable record of a bygone era in New York City, showing many environments and businesses that no longer exist in the sanitized NYC of today. Yet the music and the locations are still ultimately just window dressing, as Times Square remains Nicky and Pamela’s story. Some characters have such potent interiority that their lives seem to expand beyond the confines of the film itself. Nicky and Pamela are two such characters, and while Times Square may come to an end, these two young women will continue. For them, alienation led to empowerment, and nothing can stop that, even the closing credits.
Cinematographer James A. Contner shot Times Square on 35 mm film using Panavision cameras with spherical lenses, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. Kino Lorber describes this version as a “brand new HD master from a 4K scan of the original camera negative.” Considering that this is the first high definition version of Times Square released on home video, the improvements over all previous versions aren’t subtle. Aside from the optically printed opening title sequence, everything is sharp and detailed, with virtually no visible damage of any kind. The grain is a bit coarse in the dupe elements used for those titles, but it’s moderate throughout the rest of the film. The color timing looks natural, with accurate flesh tones (even the paler skin on Trini Alvarado). The only real issue is that the darker sequences don’t have the best resolved shadow detail, and can look a little washed out at times. (There may also be just a touch of noise mixed in with the grain in some of those shots.) Despite those minor flaws, Times Square definitely hasn’t looked this good since it originally played in theatres.
Audio is offered in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. Times Square was originally released in Dolby Stereo, and the 2.0 track is an accurate presentation of that matrixed four-channel mix. The new 5.1 track appears to be a simple discrete encoding of those four channels, without any remixing. Properly decoded, the two aren’t significantly different, so the choice will come down to personal preference. Both are essentially mono-focused, with just a bit of stereo spread in the music, and some light ambience in the surrounds. There’s an occasional directionalized sound effect panning across the front soundstage, but those moments are few and far between. The classic songs on the soundtrack sound fine, though the frequency response is a bit limited, with little deep bass, and a lack of sparkle in the upper end. That’s likely just the limitations inherent to the source.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release of Times Square comes with a slipcover and a reversible insert that features alternate poster artwork on each side. The following extras are included:
- Audio Commentary with Allan Moyle and Robin Johnson
- Audio Commentary with Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain
- Trailer (SD – 2:59)
- Diva Trailer (SD – 2:52)
- Zoot Suit Trailer (HD – 2:17)
- Modern Girls Trailer (SD – 1:09)
- Grace of My Heart Trailer (SD – 1:36)
- Stella Trailer (SD – :38)
- The Gun in Betty Lou's Handbag Trailer (SD – :52)
The first commentary track with Moyle and Robinson was originally recorded for the 2000 Anchor Bay DVD release of Times Square. Moyle admits up front that he hadn’t seen the film since his original director’s cut was set aside, so watching the theatrical cut was a new experience for him. The two discuss the origins of the story and how the production came together, as well as how much was improvised and how much was scripted. They talk about the locations and how those have changed since Times Square was cleaned up in the Nineties, and they also identify footage that was shot by the second unit for the recut theatrical version. (Moyle says that Anchor Bay tried to track down the missing footage from his original cut, but it’s long gone.) In the end, he decides that he’s not going to feel bad about the film anymore, and that he no longer wishes to change anything.
The second commentary with authors and critics Ellinger and Drain was newly-recorded for this Blu-ray release. They cover details regarding the production, but their real focus is on the story and how that they relate to it. (Ellinger says that punk rock saved her life, and they both note the way that punk unites the misfits in the film.) They describe the film as being a genuine romance between two young girls, noting that it was about love, not sex. They’re effusive in their praise for Robinson, and also show due deference to the Eighth Wonder of the Modern World that Tim Curry represents. They talk about the issues with Stigwood, with Drain describing his 1978 production Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as an effective anti-coke PSA. While Moyle may still have mixed feelings about Times Square (and understandably so), Ellinger and Drain are clearly fans, so their commentary provides an interesting counterpoint to his more reserved track.
While Times Square will never achieve the cult status that Pump up the Volume has, it’s still a sleeper that’s worthy of rediscovery. Thanks to the solid 4K restoration work on Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray, to say nothing of the two thoughtful commentary tracks, there’s no better way to experience Times Square for the first time. For those who are already fans of the film, this disc will be a mandatory purchase.
- Stephen Bjork