Sunday, January 20, 2008


(Continually we will spotlight films that are only available on VHS and of course are available at Rocket Video)


Baby, It's You (1983)

Rocket recently got Philip Kaufman’s terrific 1979 flick The Wanderers on DVD. A teen (gang members) coming-of-age story set in NY in the early-mid 60s (based on the wonderful book by Richard Price)

Similarly Baby, It’s You is about a high school couple, around the same period in NJ. What’s fascinating is both urban films shows the periods in mid change from the Eisenhower era (or for these guys the Rat Pack era) to an uncertain late-sixties (fill in your era cliché here, flower powerantiwar, etc.).

When i saw Baby, It’s You as a kid I fell deeply in love with Rosanna Arquette, her Jill was an aspiring actress eager to grow and experience life. And I wanted to relate to her beau, Sheik, a bad boy stuck in neutral while the world changes without him.

Here’s what Janet Maslin of the NY Times had to say about it back on March 25, 1983

PLASTIC furniture covers. Baby-blue knee socks. A car with pushbutton transmission. Two teen-age girls in biology class, talking about their love life as they coolly dissect a frog. These and other well-chosen details of a 1960's adolescence are captured by John Sayles with characteristically witty precision in ''Baby, It's You,'' a love story that's as much about the era in which it's set as about the characters it follows.

Indeed, the time (early to mid-60's) and place (Trenton) of Mr. Sayles's film have a way of superseding the high-school lovers who are meant to be at the movie's center. Jill Rosen (Rosanna Arquette) and Sheik Capadilupo (Vincent Spano) happen to be strangely matched and self-involved even by teen-age standards, which is one reason the movie doesn't entirely work as a tale of obsessive romance. Jill is poised, popular, a little aloof and hoping to be a star performer some day; in line with this, she stars triumphantly in a high-school play and practices singing ''Stop! In the Name of Love!'' in front of the mirror in her bedroom. As for Sheik, he's a sharp dresser with a passionate devotion to Frank Sinatra. ''The way I figure it, there's only three people in the world that matter,'' he tells Jill early in their courtship. ''Jesus Christ, Frank Sinatra and me.''

Mr. Sayles's screenplay introduces these unlikely lovers in the school cafeteria and follows them long enough to make ''Baby, It's You,'' which opens today at the Coronet, feel more like two movies than one. In its second half, Jill has moved on to Sarah Lawrence, discovered marijuana, let her hair go wavy and become much less of a social success, yet somehow she's still in touch with this high school beau.

This would make more sense if she and Sheik had been on a firm footing in the old days, but their courtship begins as a very one sided affair. Sheik, who's got a nasty temper and absolutely no respect for the school's rules, virtually stalks Jill through the corridors until she begins to notice him. One way he attracts her attention is by slicking back his hair and wearing suits in the classroom, which certainly helps him stand out in the crowd. He is helped in these efforts by a loving Italian mama who dutifully irons his pants.

Mr. Sayles's teen-agers are a bit more rueful and knowing than most. They seem to be well on their way to becoming the thirtyish characters of ''Return of the Secaucus Seven'' or ''Lianna,'' two films in which Mr. Sayles demonstrated a surer sense of his characters than he does here. Jill, who is played crisply and confidently by Miss Arquette, fits more comfortably into Mr. Sayles's scheme, as a headstrong girl who begins to lose her bearings as the story moves on. But Sheik, though he's made powerful and sympathetic by Mr. Spano, seems perpetually ready to drift out of the movie entirely. When he moves to Miami and gets a job lip-synching Sinatra hits in a seedy nightclub, he seems to have passed the point of no return. But the film is determined to stay with him.

Music is a major part of ''Baby, It's You,'' as the title may indicate. The score consists of rock songs that more or less correspond to the time, although Sheik's entrances are accompanied by Bruce Springsteen songs; these may be anachronistic, but they suit Sheik to a T. These touches, as well as the generally impeccable period details and the evocative cinematography by Michael Ballhaus (who shot many of R.W. Fassbinder's later films), suggest that ''Baby, It's You'' was a labor of love for everyone involved. 

 As she points out it’s shot by Ballhaus freshly transplanted to the states after a decade working with Fassbinder, just before his long collaboration with Scorsese was to begin.

 The film’s only weakness to me, she doesn’t seem to mind, the score. The music of Bruce Springsteen does not evoke the early sixties in my mind (it’s “Eddie & The Cruisers” ish).

 What makes the film are the two stars and the Sayles winning dialog. What ever happened to those three?

Vincent Spano who comes off like a good-looking Nicholas Cage without the hair issues, shoulda had a bigger career

He followed this up with The Black Stallion Returns (1983) the weak sequel to Carroll Ballard highly acclaimed The Black Stallion (1979) unfortunately directed by the first films editor Robert Dalva.  He joined the up-&-coming list when he was cast in Coppola’s Rumble Fish (1983) but unfortunately he was rather miscast as Matt Dillon’s nerdy sidekick. And then he did a number of leads in mostly forgotten junk like the pretty cool urban crime thriller Alphabet City (Poe 1984) and the awful Peter O’Toole comedy Creator (Passer 1985). later he would reteam with Sayles (see below) and float between TV MoviesItalian art house flicks and straight-to-cable thrillers. He never got another brake-out role, to free him from acting-jail. He needs a Tarantino-type to rescue him.

 Similarly Rosanna Arquette, though in a number of higher profile and acclaimed films, never got that “oscar-nomination” type role, to warm her up for the mass consumption. I must say early in her career she was one of the sexiest actresses ever. 

Her quirkiness and rather odd voice and little-girl line delivery was not attractive to everyone (but, me like). 

 Just prior to Baby, It’s You, she received a well deserved Emmy nomination for the TV version of Norman Mailer’s book The Executioner's Song (1982) With Tommy Lee Jones  (the popular European cut is much racier- if you... catch my drift).  

She would have some success with a couple of hits Desperately Seeking Susan (Seidelman 1985) and Silverado (Kasden 1985). But the rest of her film filmography has more misses then hits and sprinkled in is occasional  work with a-list like Hal Ashby (8 Million Ways To Die 1986), Besson (The Big Blue 1988), Tarantino (Pulp Fiction 1994), Cronenberg (Crash 1996) and twice with Scorsese, she’s excellent in both in After Hours (1985) and New York Stories (1989).

 She’s also directed a couple of  documentaries. Searching for Debra Winger (2002) dealt with how the movie biz treated actresses after a certain age. And after a life time of banging and hanging around with musicians she’d offered an ode to them with All We Are Saying (2005) (TV).

 John Sayles has been a pioneer in Independent film, paving the way for the generation after him by doggedly seeing his low-budget visions through. Often financing them working as a writer-for-hire  (Piranha (1978), The Howling (1981) the upcoming The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008) etc.). His work as director has fluctuated between significant, Passion Fish (1992), to memorableEight Men Out (1988) to the more often, admirable but boring Casa de los babys (2003).

Baby It’s You is my favorite of his films. Followed by his striking minors epic Matewan (1987) and......


City of Hope (1991)

This is a sprawling urban-politics film, with a huge cast includes Spano, Tony Lo Bianco, Angela Bassett and from Sayles regular reparatory of actors David Strathairn, Kevin Tighe, Joe Morton and Chris Cooper.

As writer & director Sayles predates HBO’s The Wire and other recent cable series’s (Showtime’s The Brotherhood, FX’s The Shield) that often tackle the motives behind big city corruption built into the policical system and honestly question the true goals of immoral actavism. It’s a challenging interesting flick.

Here what chubby film-savant Roger Ebert wrote about it back in 1991.