Want to become an instant expert in our filmmaker of the month without committing yourself to an entire filmography? Then you need the Hell Is For Hyphenates Cheat Sheet: we program you a double that will not only make for a great evening’s viewing, but bring you suitably up-to-speed before our next episode lands…
GAS FOOD LODGING (1992) and GRACE OF MY HEART (1996)
Happy 25th birthday Gas, Food, Lodging, the Dinosaur Jr-soundtracked ode to the beautiful landscapes of New Mexico and the intense girls who inhabit them. Anders’ first solo-directed feature – like her first Border Radio (1987, with Kurt Voss and Dean Lent) – hovers in the borderlands, where Shade (Fairuza Balk) falls (didn’t we all?) for her (quite evidently queer) best friend Darius (Donovan Leitch) before realizing that it’s Javier (Jacob Vargas) who loves her. Meanwhile her sister Trudi (Ione Skye, Leitch’s older sister in real life) has fallen for a geologist, with grave consequences. Their mother Nora (Brooke Adams) is trying to hold it together and find new love. One trailer, three tough-as-velvet women, and a soundtrack that knew what the ’90s was about before the ’90s even happened. Music is Anders’ particular genius, with Border Radio the first in a trilogy of contemporary SoCal musician films – but it’s 1960s and ’70s-set Grace of My Heart that most captured ours, telling tales of the Brill Building with characters who are almost just not quite (but enough to thrill) the stars of the era. Ileana Douglas has the starring role she always deserved as debutante-turned-songwriter Denise Waverly who finds her voice with the help/hindrance of variously dependent men (most loyal being producer Joel Milner, in an all-out funky turn from John Turturro) and equally variously resilient, funny women (including a surprisingly excellent turn from Patsy Kensit). With a soundtrack that mixes covers of obscure songs by big names from the era (Joni Mitchell’s ‘Man from Mars’ makes a particularly striking appearance) with original songs, Grace of My Heart is one for fans of The Get-Down or Vinyl – but with way more girl power.
Substitutions: If you can’t get or have already seen Gas Food Lodging, follow the music to Sugar Town (1999), the second of the SoCal trilogy, which will have you asking ‘Why on earth wasn’t this turned into a TV series?’ – not only for the great performances from Ally Sheedy (as a film production designer looking for love with all the wrong men) and Rosanna Arquette (as a former horror film ingénue facing ‘mom roles’ and her desire to be a mother) but for its Nashville-meets-Californication take on the seedier end of the music biz, featuring British new romantic musicians Martin Kemp and John Taylor as washed-up 80s rockers.If you can’t get or have already seen Grace of My Heart, then for something completely different, there’s Mi vida loca (1994). It’s the film that made Anders’ name internationally, a raw and still-radical girl gang tale filmed with mainly street-cast actors, some of whom were part of Chicana and Latina gangs in LA’s Echo Park. Mousie and Sad Girl are best friends, but their friendship struggles to survive the violence and betrayal that come from poverty and racism.
The Hidden Gem: Things Behind the Sun (2001) brings together Mi vida loca’s rawness with Anders’ inside knowledge of the music biz, this is an astoundingly courageous (and semi-autobiographical, for Anders) film that should have made Kim Dickens a huge star. She gives absolutely everything to her role as Sherry, a rock singer breaking into the college radio charts with a powerful song about having been raped, which catches the ear of music journalist Owen (Gabriel Mann) and brings up memories for him, too. It’s a slow burn (aided by a tour de force performance from Don Cheadle as Sherry’s manager and lover) and a tough watch, but – much like the Nick Drake title song – it will haunt you forever.
The next episode of Hell Is For Hyphenates, featuring Jennifer Reeder talking Allison Anders, will be released on 31 March 2017.