Sunday, June 16, 2024

Books: "Desperately Seeking Something" By Susan Seidelman; Launch In Brooklyn This Week


Desperately Seeking Something: A Memoir About Movies, Mothers, and Material Girls

By Susan Seidelman

St. Martin's Press; hardcover; $30.00; available this Tuesday, June 18th

Susan Seidelman graduated from NYU Grad Film School, and she began her career in the 1980s when "Smithereens" became the first American Independent film to be accepted into the Cannes Film Festival. Her next movie, the inspiration for the title of this memoir, was "Desperately Seeking Susan," which starred Madonna and Rosanna Arquette, and was a critical and commercial success. She is also known for directing the first four episodes of "Sex and the City," which stand out for how different they were than the rest of the landmark series. 

In Desperately Seeking Something, Seidelman delivers and funny and insightful first-person story of her life, from her girlhood when she was raised in the safe cocoon of 1960s suburbia and was obsessed with Triggy, to the Madonna-mania of the 1980s and beyond. 

Seidelman left the Philadelphia suburbs for New York City in 1973, settling into Manhattan's Lower East Side, and enrolling at NYU's evolving graduate film school, deadset on becoming a filmmaker at a time when few women were directing movies. It was a time when the city was falling apart, but it gave artists a burst of creative energy which has had lasting effects on American pop culture to this day.

Seidelman's goal was to make movies with stories about the unrepresented characters she wanted to see on screen, mostly women who were unconventional in different circumstances, needing to express themselves and maintain their autonomy. 

The genre-bending films Seidelman became known for reflect a passion for classic Hollywood storytelling, mixed with a playful New Wave spirit, informed by her years of living in downtown New York City. "Smithereens" was a fearless punk drama, and her influence continued with those "Sex and the City" episodes, which included the pilot, as she showed the changing place of women in American society and fundamentally reshaping women's self-image in ways that are felt to this day.

In this excerpt, Seidelman writes: "My parents named me Susan.

It was a popular name in the 1940s through the 1960s. A name identifies you, gives you a sense of who you are and your place in the world. Mine is a Baby Boomer name, and while there are various shades of Susans, many are white.

It's an ordinary name, not exotic or posh like Cordelia or Gisele. But not as plain as Jane. 

It's a biblical name of Hebrew origin meaning 'lily,' associated with hope and the number eleven.

The name has several notable forbearers" the nineteenth-century suffragette Susan B. Anthony; the Britain's Got Talent singing phenomenon Susan Boyle; the essayist and critic Susan Sontag; the Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon. Even Queen Elizabeth's first corgi, given to her on her eighteenth birthday, was named Susan.

But there was another Susan, a Hollywood actress famous for playing bold and shameless women in the 1940s and '50s whose name was Susan Hayward. My mother tells me I was named after her.

The name Seidelman also identifies me. Although there are German Siedelmanns (spelled ie and double n), it's often a Jewish last name. The word siedeln, the etymology of Seidelman, means to 'settle down; to create a new life in a before unknown place.' And that's what I've spent a lifetime trying to do.

So, my name has four identifying features. I'm a Baby Boomer, white, Jewish, and have settled in a new place.

Last year I turned seventy, and after spending forty years on the less-glamorous side of the camera telling other people's stories, I've decided to tell my own. This is not a memoir about extraordinary ambition or enormous drive leading to success. Yes, I had ambition and drive, but really what I had was a vision about the kind of movies I wanted to make and the stamina to make them.

This is a story about persistence. About putting one's foot in front of the other, heading down a path, and, after several wrong turns, eventually ending up where I wanted to go.

It's also a tale of transformation, one I've played out in real life as well as on film.

History likes to mythologize artists as struggling and tortured souls who rise above their circumstances. There's nothing dramatic about growing up normal and relatively happy in a middle-class suburb outside of Philadelphia. When I was young, I thought that having such a boring origin story disqualified me from being a real artist, so at times I created my own chaos just to shake things up.

But here's the question: Can you be ordinary and still have something extra-ordinary to say?"

BOOK LAUNCH IN BROOKLYN: Susan Seidelman will be launching Desperately Seeking Something at Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn on Wednesday June 19 at 7:00 p.m. Powerhouse Arena is located in DUMBO at POWERHOUSE @ the Archway: 28 Adams Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201. Please click here for full information.

No comments:

Post a Comment