New York Film Locations

Desperately Seeking Susan - Special Report (Day 1)

6 April 2015

Today marks the start of a week-long celebration for the film, Desperately Seeking Susan as it reaches its 30th anniversary on Sunday. Shot in New York City during the summer months of 1984 and officially released to US cinema audiences on the 12th April 1985, the comedy-drama was intended to be an R-rated feature, but as it starred Madonna, who at the time was on the rise to popularity, the film was trimmed in content by Orion Pictures to get a PG-13 rating in order to market the film to Madonna's teenage fan base.

(Susan Seidelman on the set of Desperately Seeking Susan)

Directed by Susan Seidelman, the main plot of the film followed Roberta played by Rosanna Arquette, an unfulfilled suburban housewife living in Fort Lee, New Jersey who became fascinated with a woman she only knew about by reading messages to and from her in the personals section of a New York City tabloid. This fascination reached a peak when one such ad with the headline "Desperately Seeking Susan" proposed a rendezvous in Battery Park with the man who regularly searched for her. Roberta takes a trip to Battery Park too, and finally gets a glimpse of the woman played by Madonna, and in a series of events involving mistaken identity, amnesia, and other farcical elements, Roberta goes from voyeur to participant in an Alice in Wonderland–style plot, ostensibly motivated by the search for a pair of stolen Egyptian earrings. With both of them trying to locate Roberta, her husband becomes involved with the wild Susan.

The film held a 85% rating at the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 23 reviews, and in her review for The New Yorker, critic Pauline Kael praised Madonna's performance as "an indolent, trampy goddess." The New York Times film critic Vincent Canby named the film as one of the 10 best films of 1985. Actress Rosanna Arquette won a BAFTA Award for her portrayal of Roberta; the fact that the award was for a "supporting role" reflected the surge in popularity that Madonna was experiencing at the time, since in terms of billing, number of scenes, lines of dialogue, and the plot, Arquette was the film's lead. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical. Madonna also received positive reviews for her portrayal of Susan.

The Desperately Seeking Susan soundtrack featured the original score for the film and was released on both vinyl and CD. The soundtrack did not feature any of the other songs in the film including Madonna's "Into the Groove" which can only be found on the European 1985 re-release of her Like a Virgin album. Madonna also recorded a song for the movie, titled "Desperately Seeking Susan". It ended up not being used in the film, and a demo she just finished at the time called "Into the Groove" was used instead. The demo version can only be heard in the movie. The song was a huge commercial success but was not included on the film's soundtrack, despite being heard in the film, due to licensing restrictions, which did involve Madonna's record label, that none of her songs were allowed to get mixed in with other artists. The music video for "Into the Groove" consists of clips from the film compiled by Doug Dowdle of Parallax Productions.

The filmmakers had initially wanted Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn to play the roles of Roberta and Susan, but the director decided to cast newcomers Rosanna Arquette and Madonna instead and the studio wanted the film to have younger actors in order to appeal to younger filmgoers. Bruce Willis was up for the role of "Dez" and Melanie Griffith was up for the part of "Susan". Madonna barely beat out Ellen Barkin and Jennifer Jason Leigh for the part of Susan. Suzanne Vega also auditioned for the role of Susan, but was passed over.

The Statue of Liberty can be seen in the film when it was still covered in scaffolding during its two-year renovation. The DVD commentary track for the film which was recorded in 1996 noted that after Madonna's first screen test, the producers asked her to take four weeks of acting lessons and get screen-tested again. Although the second screen test was not much of an improvement, the director still wanted her for the role, as much for her presence and sense of style as for anything else. Costume designer Santo Loquasto designed Susan's pyramid jacket.

(The Statue of Liberty in 1984)

The film was inspired in part by the 1974 film, Céline et Julie vont en bateau, and also had an alternate ending included on the DVD, where Susan and Roberta are invited to Egypt after helping to return the earrings. They are depicted next to the pyramids on camels. The director cut this scene from the end saying that it was unnecessary and audiences at the test screenings thought the film should have already ended much earlier. The 1964 science fiction film, The Time Travellers, is playing in scenes 6 and 23, and melts at the end of the movie. All the scenes featuring Dez played by Aidan Quinn working as a projectionist were filmed at Bleecker Street Cinema. Other film locations included the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem, Danceteria night club in midtown Manhattan, and the second-hand clothing store “Love Saves the Day” in the East Village.

(DVD version)(Blu-Ray released in 2014)

As with many film productions, what normally follows after the cinema release is the mass of merchandise. For Desperately Seeking Susan there were several items available to purchase such as the original score soundtrack, the paperback story book and the character dolls. The VHS tape version was released a year later and more recently the DVD and Blu-Ray. Desperately Seeking Susan was one of the first acclaimed classics to be released by the brand new Kino Lorber Studio Classics label.

(Madonna wearing the jacket which sold at auction for $252,000)

In November 2014, a collection of dresses and outfits worn by Madonna during her career in music and film helped a celebrity auction raise $3.2m (£2m). The Rock n' Roll' auction in Beverly Hills saw the jacket worn by Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan bring in $252,000 (the highest of the lot), and the one earring that she wore in the film fetched $34,375. Other highlights from the Madonna auction included her gown from the film “Evita,” which sold for $15,000, her “League of Their Own” uniform, which sold for $31,250, and her “Who’s That Girl” tour dress, which sold for $50,000.

Special Report (Day 2) looks back at the Press Conference held in 2010 to mark the 25th Anniversary.


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