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Eclectic DVD presents
"Even though Alexandria was committed, I'm not going to let that stop us. Now that you're back in town, we're gonna get the band back together and rock L.A."
DVD ReviewRock-and-roll isn't always pretty, and in 1984 it was apparently even uglier, if this film is any indication. Desperate Teenage Lovedolls is writer/director Dave Markey's seminal entry in the hazards of the often-told sudden fame genre (sort of like a tougher, meaner version of The Rose gone wild), here set in the leather jackets and drugged world of the early '80s Santa Monica punk scene. Like John Waters before him, Markey populated his film primarily with friends and acquaintances, many of whom happened to be up-and-coming names in the California underground music scene, such as the band Redd Kross (long one of my guilty pleasures), whose various members and original music figures prominently in this particular film.
Desperate Teenage Lovedolls was shot on grungy Super 8 for an absolutely unheard of budget of "$250 plus bus fare," according to Markey's admission on the commentary track, and to be brutally honest, it certainly does look it. This is hardscrabble indie guerilla filmmaking, to be sure, and Markey had the added indignity of the format's hit-or-miss audio quality, to say nothing of the wildly fluctuating image quality as well.
The rise-and-fall story is certainly a familiar one, and in Markey's world it concerns the plight of a tough all-girl punk band known as The Lovedolls. The band consists of Kitty Carryall (Jennifer Schwartz) and Patch Kelly (Redd Kross drummer Janet Housden), who recruit naïve Bunny Tremolo (Hilary Rubens) after founding member Alexandria (Kim Pilkington) lands in a mental hospital after a bad drug trip. Success, however, isn't always everything it is cracked up to be, and in true West Side Story fashion, The Lovedolls find themselves having to do violent battle (literally) with The She Devils, another all-girl band, led by the knife-wielding Tania Hearst (Tracy Lea, yet another Redd Kross alumnus).
The finished project has a fairly short runtime, running barely fifty minutes, but in that time Markey dishes out plenty of B-grade violence and pathos, including gun battles, knife fights, sexual assaults, drug overdoses, as well as a couple of characters actually meeting their demise after getting pummeled by a guitar. Bangle guitarist Vickie Peterson (in hindsight the "biggest" name in the credits) even shows briefly up as part of roving gang of hippies who murder a character with an array of pipes and bottles.
Even with the production limitations that Markey had right (both financial and technical), what he assembled still stands as an undeniably raw, funny, violent, badly acted and outrageously campy story of rape, murder, fame, drugs and rock-and-roll, though not necessarily in that order. There are a lot of pop culture references (Kitty Carryall is named after Cindy Brady's doll), some more obscure than others, and most concerning the music scene; if the thought of a character discussing a Beatles reunion featuring the Quiet Riot drummer as a "fill in" makes you chuckle, then you will likely find more than a few other instances of similar rock-related humor. The presentation is definitely more than a little rough around the edges (it did have a $250 budget, after all), but Markey's indie punk spirit somehow shines through, even after all these years.
I only hope that Markey's 1986 sequel, Lovedoll Superstar, is released on DVD one of these days.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: This is a solid image transfer of fairly poor source material (Super 8 shot in 1984). Presented in 1.33:1 full-frame, the print of Desperate Teenage Lovedolls does show its age, but is remarkably free of any real flaws, aside from color levels that are all over the board. Image detail is somewhat fuzzy at times, and the couple of the night scenes are difficult to follow; the film looks good in spots, horrible in others.
For a project that had only a $250 budget (in the pre-digital era), this transfer is pretty much what you might expect.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 stereo mix is as uneven as the image transfer, but is more a product of the original recording (what Markey refers to as Super 8's "Mr. Microphone quality") than of any real transfer issues. Dialogue is often muffled or distorted, but understandable, for the most part.
Like the film itself, the audio transfer is rough around the edges.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
15 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Dave Markey, Jordan Schwartz
The Story of Desperate Teenage Lovedolls and We Got Power (08m:57s) is a brief history of the project, narrated by Dave Markey; in material not covered in the commentary, he goes a bit more in-depth on their fanzine days. This piece presents a nice, concise history, and there's a great, deranged story about Kim Fowley, the producer of The Runaways (the all-girl rock band from the early 1980s, featuring Joan Jett) threatening Markey with explosives if he didn't change the name of the film (which was originally entitled Desperate Teenage Runaways).
There are 15 deleted scenes (09m:55s), and most of them are horribly out of focus. A couple of them offer a variation on the film's big showdown, and I wish Markey had added his comments to these. A low-budget Redd Kross music video (02m:05s) for the title song, Ballad of a Lovedoll, is also included. A pair of Desperate Teenage Lovedolls trailers and crew filmographies are present, too.The disc is cut into 10 chapters.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsDave Markey travels boldly into the tacky realm of John Waters with his low-budget rock saga Desperate Teenage Lovedolls, swapping Baltimore for Santa Monica and dysfunctional families with dysfunctional punk bands.
Eclectic has done a respectable job on the packaging of this disc, and it is full of tacky exploitation cover art, along with a first-rate commentary track and a woefully short, but informative making-of featurette.
Recommended for adventurous viewers only.
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