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“Desperately Seeking Susan (Seidelman)” : High Times

Madonna - High Times / May 1985

Desperately Seeking Susan (Seidelman)

Madonna looked as though she had just stepped out of the shower. Her hair was still wet as she bolted into her trailer dressing room from the car that delivered her, late, to the set. Earlier, actress Rosanna Arquette had spent several hours getting out of a cab and walking into the Magic Club, a camera and film crew recording her every move.

“They are two different kinds of women, almost a classical division of the bad girl and the good girl,” says director Susan Seidelman, discussing her new film Desperately Seeking Susan.

“Madonna, the notorious “Boy Toy” chart topper, is making her film debut as Susan, a funky city girl who has a knack for getting by with a little help from her friends. “She’s manipulative and lives on instincts” Seidelman says of Susan. “She’s not terribly concerned about how she gets by, she just cares about getting by. You are fascinated by the way she is so clever and able to survive.” Seidelman pauses and nods. “Madonna plays somebody who I’m sure she could relate to.”

Arquette, who appeared in John Sayles’ Baby It’s You and Martin Scorsese latest film, After Hours, is one of the freshest and busiest rising stars of the screen. (She was also the real-life inspiration for Toto’s hit single, “Rosanna”) She plays Roberta, a bored New Jersey housewife drawn by the mystery and excitement of Susan. “In some ways Roberta represents the good girl, almost too good, and Susan symbolizes the street girl.” says the 32-year-old director.
“What the script is about is integrating those two aspects of somebody’s personality into one, a sort of synthesis,” Seidelman adds between sips of green tea in a fashionable Soho boite, where “Like a Virgin” is playing loudly on the racio. “Is that Madonna?” she asks.

Susan Seidelman did not grow up eating, drinking and sleeping film. Her decision to become a director came late. While studying to be a fashion designer, she needed an extra course in order to graduate. She took a film criticism class that led to a decision against a career in fashion: “I didn’t want to sit around, sketch clothes and sew.” Working at a television station outside Philadelphia as a programmer, she realized that scheduling reruns of I Love Lucy stunted creative growth. “On a lark I applied to film schools,” she says, and eventually chose New York University.

Madonna - High Times / May 1985

There, she won a Student Academy Award for her film, ‘And You Act Like One, Too,’ a satire about a married woman in a domestic rut. She later received a grant from the American Film Institute and directed ‘Deficit.’ Soon after that, she won a Silver Plaque at the Chicago Film Festival for her direction of ‘Yours Truly, Andrea G. Stern.’ After graduating, Seidelman began work on ‘Smithereens’ in 1980 with a seven-week shooting schedule and an $80,000 budget. In 1982, with ‘Smithereens,’ the 29 -year-old Seidelman was the only American independent and female director in the Cannes Film Festival main event.

Seidelman says she directs film as a way of exploring different personas. Her characters, the “good girls” and “bad girls” are to be aspects of herself appearing on the screen. For Smithereens, she choose from among a hundred actresses who auditioned for the lead role of Wren, another “Susan,” Susan Berman, who could pass as Seidelman’s sister. About the lead characters in Desperately Seeking Susan, she says. “I can connect with both Susan and Roberta because there’s a bit of me in each of them.”

In both Smithereens and Desperately Seeking Susan, the main characters are from New Jersey and want to be somewhere else. Seidelman grew up in a Pennsylvania suburb, a place where she felt she did not want to spend the rest of her life.