Times Square, nostalgia, and melancholy

Stage left, through a crowd, Nicky appears:

Stage left, through a crowd, Nicky disappears:

It is thirty years since Times Square was released in the United States. In Venus, Ben Schulman writes, “Thirty years removed from its release on October 17, 1980, the film. . . captures a physical place long gone. It’s an ironic turn for the places in which the Sleez Sisters slummed it up, and most important, a lasting influence of DIY spirit.” (MovieMan0283 notes, “Three decades after Moyle left his own production in disgust (producers were streamlining the story in order to make room for more songs) Times Square still sustains a healthy cult following.”)  Thirty years!; I’m quite overwhelmed by feelings of nostalgia and melancholy.  What has been lost?  (What have I lost?)

In her classic essay on the topic, Linda Hutcheon argues that “nostalgia is not something you ‘perceive’ in an object; it is what you ‘feel’ when two different temporal moments, past and present, come together for you and, often, carry considerable emotional weight. . . . it is the element of response — of active participation, both intellectual and affective — that makes for the power” (Linda Hutcheon, “Irony, Nostalgia, and the Postmodern”).

While I agree with Hutcheon’s assertion that to term a text “nostalgic” is “less a description of the ENTITY ITSELF than an attribution of a quality of RESPONSE,”  nevertheless, I argue that the narrative of Times Square is itself predicated on the concept of nostalgia, on marking moments during which we are only present as they are already vanishing.  We see this in the opening scene, as Nicky drags her belongings past the “Reclaim the Heart of the City” office, and past the miniature future city, clean, new and encased.

This imminent loss is notable, for example, in the film’s soundtrack.  If Pamela has a song, it is probably “The Night Was Not,” the song to which she dances — but doesn’t strip! — and later sadly sings along to while waiting for Nicky to return after they have fought: “told me you were leaving though you loved me a lot/now I’ve got to live with what I’ve got/…in an illusion of love I was caught” (Desmond Child and Rouge).  Nicky’s greatest moment of loss is accompanied by Patti Smith’s threnody “Pissing in a River”: “My bowels are empty, excreting your soul/ What more can I give you? Baby, I don’t know.”

But what I call the melancholy of (the) Times Square (narrative) is most succinctly presaged by the opening song, Roxy Music’s “Same Old Scene,” which also closes the film (after the abysmal “Help Me!”, by Robin Gibb and Marcy Levy, which we have all hopefully learned to repress.) And since the film is, if anything, certainly a love story, Nicky’s arrival soundtrack doesn’t bode well: “Nothing lasts forever/ of that I’m sure/ Now you’ve made an offer/ I’ll take some more/ Young loving may be/ oh, so mean/ Will I still survive/ the same old scene?”

For Nicky, this is an “always-already” loss; it is too broad to constitute a single or identifiable loss that would (only) necessitate mourning. Freud differentiates between the two states or conditions, stating that in melancholy “there is a loss of a more ideal kind. The object has not perhaps actually died, but has been lost as an object of love (e.g. in the case of a betrothed girl who has been jilted). In yet other cases one feels justified in maintaining the belief that a loss of this kind has occurred, but one cannot see clearly what it is that has been lost. . . . This would suggest that melancholia is in some way related to an object-loss which is withdrawn from consciousness, in contradistinction to mourning, in which there is nothing about the loss that is unconscious”  (Freud, “Mourning and Melancholy”, Complete Works). Nicky alludes to this: after jumping in the river, she asks, “What the fuck is wrong with me?” Unlike mourning, melancholy does not confine itself to the scene of the crime; like suicide, it is infectious.

And thirty years later: a lost city? (a) lost love(s)? wasted promise? defeated and gifted? a body, thirty years older (no question there!) the trace of desire?
“Your body is not the same today as yesterday. Your body remembers. You don’t need to remember, to store up yesterday like capital in your head. Your memory? Your body expresses yesterday in what it wants today. If you think: yesterday I was, tomorrow I shall be, you are thinking: I have died a little. Be what you are becoming, without clinging to what you might have been, what you might yet be. Never settle” (Luce Irigaray, “When Our Lips Speak Together”).
And happy anniversary.

About DefeatedandGifted

If you have any comments, anecdotes or images regarding Times Square fandom, please email me at defgif@gmail.com
This entry was posted in Cultural Geography, Cultural Studies, Fandom, Lesbian Representation, Nicole "Nicky" Marotta, Pamela "Pammy" Pearl, Queer Spectatorship, Robin Johnson, Times Square (1980) movie, Times Square (location), Trini Alvarado. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Times Square, nostalgia, and melancholy

  1. Sean/JD says:

    Loss and regret? Maybe. That’s how I felt for many years, after Times Square came and went, I spent some years drifting, and when I thought I’d found a direction, I tried to introduce my new friends to Times Square, and all it was was a horrible dark and muffled pan and scan transfer on Betamax tape. Almost unwatchable. Just another bad low budget piece of schlock from the ’80s. And Robin Johnson herself, by this time… well on her way to becoming a traffic reporter on the other side of the continent. Just a few more of all the things that are taken away from us as we live, and age, culminating with the loss of our very lives themselves, the loss of everything.

    Wow, heavy.

    When TS finally came out on DVD, I bought it, and left it shrinkwrapped for a year before getting up the courage to watch it. I was terrified it would be nothing but a eulogy for my own lost youth, a painful remembrance of a now-lost time when there nothing but a future laden with promise. Nostalgia, after all, literally being the pain of remembering the home you can never return to. We are all Odysseus.

    But you know what? That’s not what the film’s about at all. When I watched it, in form where it could be watched, I felt reinvigorated, like I’d gotten back something I didn’t know I’d lost. Anything was possible again. Anything is always possible.

    During the course of the film, Nicky thinks she loses Pammy. But that’s only because that’s already happened to her, over and over, and she can’t imagine anyone not leaving her. She lost her mom when she was little, she gradually lost her dad, and most importantly, she lost Sharon, who I always imagined was to Nicky what Nicky is to Pammy.

    So she loses Pammy and leaps into the river. What the fuck is wrong with her? She’s not done yet, that’s what. That’s not what the film is about. (IMNSHO.)

    At the beginning of the film, Johnny tells Pammy that to nurture the seed inside her that is her unique self, she may have to jump off into the darkness, and she does, metaphorically… but Nick does so literally. And twice! I never noticed that until you mentioned it here, but the first time, in despair, she leaps off into the darkness of the Hudson, which is very likely where Sharon died… but Nicky hauls herself out, and eventually gets it together enough to realize she hadn’t lost Pammy, and to become the star she always was inside. And then, in triumph, she leaps off into the darkness again, only to be rescued by the “helping hands” of a multitude for whom she has become a beacon of hope.

    Pammy now knows who she is, regardless of the illusions and manipulations of her father and of Johnny, and of the sedative-happy medical system. She has become who she was all along. Nicky has also become who she was all along. It’s no mistake that Nicky’s leather jacket, when she first appears, has a giant butterfly across the back, and that she soon gives that jacket to Pammy. It’s all about transforming from something small and helpless, or from believing that that’s what you are, into something beautiful and independent and unique, and flying.

    Times Square is a movie about hope, being true to yourself, not just being who you are but being the hell out of who you are. About snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, after smashing out defeat’s headlights with a crowbar. Brian from Life of Brian may have said it best: “Don’t let anyone tell you what to do!” Or maybe it was the Monkees, in “For Pete’s Sake:” “We must be what we’re going to be/ And all we have to be is free.”

    It’s also severely flawed structurally, and follows dream logic more than any narrative logic…. but that’s another comment for another article you have to write 🙂

    I wonder if Allan Moyle would be at all surprised or pleased that the film he couldn’t face for so many years can inspire still (or at all) this level of discourse as to its symbolism?

    • Sean / JD,
      Thank you very much for your response to my post!
      It has never occurred to me that Pammy does not leave Nicky. Never! It has never even occurred as a possible reading. I’ll certainly consider that during my next viewing.
      I think one of the great strengths of the film — at least insofar as it inspires continued interest and fandom — is how it manages to hit a tone that is simultaneously depressing and jubilant. I think this follows to readings and plot interpretations. Many critics seem to suggest that it should be one or the other, as in, comedic OR tragic but not both at the same time!
      I’m really not sure what Allan Moyle would think of the continued (and probably growing) interest in Times Square. At least he has acknowledged the bastard child now; for a few years, he seemed to be suggesting Alan Smithee was the father!
      Def Gif

      • JD says:

        … it manages to hit a tone that is simultaneously depressing and jubilant.

        I have four words to say to that: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

        Life is simultaneously depressing and jubilant, comedic AND tragic. This may be why, despite the patent unbelievability of its surface, Times Square strikes a chord with some people [looks briefly at the choir] as something deeply and viscerally true.

      • Well, for me, the only thing depressing about Buffy the Vampire Slayer is that so many people didn’t find it banal. I do think that Times Square is unusual in how it invokes the depressing/jubilant tones, and having thought about it, your earlier comment regarding non-linear narratives might help to account for that… Um, that, and Robin Johnson’s performance!

  2. sleez_sister_4ever says:

    How I discovered Times Square – I really loved the movie “Over The Edge” and I was going out with this guy and he kept telling me “You have to see Times Square.” Well, he was right and I married that guy because you ought to marry the person who introduced you to Times Square, right? And, he had a Haircut 100 cassette, too. Score!

    • Oh, for sure! There are many many times when I should have pushed the “Abort” button on relationship missions based solely on my partner’s bad taste in movies. You live and learn!

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