Thursday, March 7, 2013


Light of Day beatific white lighting to suggest redemption/reconciliation, promo shot as featured in some cineaste magazine about production values
Another Light of Day promo shot of its fictional band (although the film was in full color)
 My photo of Joan Jett circa 1975 in The Runaways with Michael Steele, later of The Bangles.

Once upon a time it was a very different movie, this Light of Day still unavailable in modern formats in America.  An underpraised film as worthy as any underpraised song that remains a personal favorite in your iPod, the resultant film is/was an astonisher despite its tepid legacy. It wrongly was disowned by practically everyone involved in its making due to extraordinary circumstances of exigent bad luck. Allow yours truly to recount why Light of Day not only should be free of the excoriation but also why it remains a Rock and Roll Great in cinema.

The provable: its director/screenwriter Paul Shrader wrote Taxi Driver, and co-wrote Raging Bull, Bringing Out The Dead and Last Temptation of Christ amongst other works directed by Martin Scorsese, representing some of the latter's personal bests. He directed decade definer American Gigolo in the 1980s, and co-wrote Harrison Ford's relocation horror movie Mosquito Coast. This masterful raconteur of darkness in cinema hadn't even seen a motion picture until he was 18 years old because of martinet, contentious, religious family upbringing.

Casting differed wildly in its inception, with Pop poppet Fiona in the Joan Jett role and initially envisioned in the Michael J. Fox role, none other than The Boss hisself, Mr. Bruce Springsteen. (I can't resist quoting Randy Newman's lyrics with the Boss cameo, "My Life Is Good." LINK ) Mgmt. was floating a concurrent film acting career for our far younger Springsteen, who was sent this applicable script about a rocker and his sister, object: starring role and composing a theme song. 

Shrader's screenplay was entitled Born In The U.S.A. Springsteen kept the title for his own song then same titled breakthrough LP eschewing both the role and Shrader completely. When called to task he obligingly penned new title/theme song "Light Of Day" about remaining hopeful on the road of touring or life. Not quite the grandiose sociological overview implicit in the very title "Born In The U.S.A." but what could one do?   

With her unblinking, worldly-wise cat eyes, Joan Jett indeed held her own depite the presence of acting powerhouses like Gena Rowlands and pros like Michael J. Fox. Any scene Jett is in, I DARE you to take your eyes off her. Her onstage savvy surely ramped up Fox's rocker chops in their mutual live band scenes together.

Wrongheaded naysayers criticized the film's bisection of road journey/hardships of working bar band versus serious family drama as soapy. As someone who (***spoiler alert**) has been on both sides of the gurney with cancer, I fervently disagree. I myself had a scene mirroring one in the film when a doctor approached me after I awakened from "routine" surgery asking if I knew what an oncologist was. (I did, and in this instance remain here 38 years later after Stage 1 or 2 [less transparency then.] So did my better half, who 4 years after Stage 4 diagnosis and treatments thankfully remains here as well.)  Really Bad Shit, unfortunately does indeed Happen. I also know that touching someone's hand in hospital helps ground them as sensory lifeline back to the real world, another scene in the film.

One reads fairly long ago press that Shrader, before the critiques spat out, was proud of this exploration of personal family issues. And in contrast to naysayers as well, I also know why Shrader would delineate terrible family dysfunction pervading a story of folks seemingly otherwise functioning okay in their daily lives. I fathom that Really Bad Shit Happens in families as well from my subjective P.O.V. 

When first viewing this movie, it seemed a hybrid grafting of many realities in the life of my friend Mary, bassist of The Dogs as portrayed by Jett with Gena Rowlands playing the always reproachful and vacuous but aggressively suppressive mother and compliantly negative family of yours truly, so it all rang rather true in the characterizations. Drive and ambition DO mean as much as familial love and vice versa. The fantasy element to me remained the resolution of longterm, terrible family issues, as much a make believe storyline as realizing the rock and roll dream.

The unprovables: dead men tell no tales. The inside info to which I was privy remains hard to verify, as its source sadly has since passed away. He was a onetime co-editor of mine who took the publicity job route while concocting screenplays and writing book reviews for the New York Times. Hence a trustworthy professional. He read the original Shrader script via his film/music p.r. duties and revealed an altogether darker version, replete with a LOT more drugs amongst the musicians and hints of incest within the brother-sister love/hate relationship. 

I detected selfsame undercurrents, but so much of what remains of Light of Day including the Springsteen expropriation remains a giant "what if..." However, with Jett's stellar turn in her one-time-only leading role amidst roiling, subjective, hyper-personal family dysfunction, we can at least enjoy what made it to the screen. If you can find Light of Day in the first place...

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