It is January, 1963, and Stepphy (Jane Levy) lives with her alcoholic father in Lonely Arms, a fictional Canadian town fifteen miles from the US border, somewhere between Toronto and Montreal. She listens to American pop music, watches American TV, and aspires to be a film star. She is about to graduate high school, and with the help of Bennett (Stephen Joffe), a nerdy friend who has a crush on her, she makes application to the American Ingenue Talent Competition in New York City and receives an acceptance letter. But to her surprise and disappointment, her father (who was once himself a country singer) refuses her permission to go. He burns the acceptance letter (which she is required to bring with her) so she can’t run away.
On prom night, Stepphy gets drunk and heads for the high school where she asks Bennet the nerd to take her away from all this. Of course he can’t do that (though he wants to) because he is on a date with someone else. (Stepphy had turned down his prom invitation, believing she would be in New York instead.) Stepphy sits outside on the school steps drinking. Seeing her vulnerability, Fabian the chemical plant manager cheerfully agrees to take her for a drive.
The ensuing date rape results in a pregnancy and Stepphy drifts into a fantasy world in which her favourite actor, Bobby Shore (a thinly disguised version of Bobby Darin, played by Justin Chatwin) comes through town and his car breaks down and they fall in love. (Coincidentally, Bobby Shore is also the name of the film’s cinematographer.)
BANG BANG BABY’s opening scene is of a New York film producer frustrated by the continued intrusion of reality into his work. He is on the phone to someone named Harv. “Dammit Harv,” he says, “I told you I’m not producing anything about aliens, mutants or monsters. I make dreams, not nightmares.” ‘Nightmare’ is a relative term. Later in the conversation he describes the film he’s talking about. “Bobby plays, you know, Bobby. And he runs into this innocent chick with huge tits…”
There are times when reality intrudes into Stepphy’s fantasies. The best one of those is when Bobby points to a satellite visible in the sky and tells her “My President put that up there so we can bomb people from space.” In a puzzling twist, she also fantasizes Bobby’s manager Helmut (Kristian Bruun) as an overly fastidious immigrant from East Germany who dislikes the whole idea of Bobby’s involvement with Stepphy and Lonely Arms.
The film is replete with references to Kennedy and the nuclear threat. Stepphy wears a pink hat and coat that looks quite a bit like a northern adaptation of the outfit Jackie Kennedy wore on the day of her husband’s assassination. (It has a fur collar and a more practical hat.) She wears it to the post office to mail her American Ingenue application. Fabian drives what looks like a Lincoln convertible from the mid-1950’s. (Kennedy was killed in a 1961 Lincoln convertible.) She fantasizes a production number of the film’s title song at what seems to be an open mike night at the local bar. But that production number (which is quite the highlight of the film) only occurs after a beat poet (Ian Matthews) is ordered off the stage by an emcee who calls him a “peacenik”.
She also fantasizes that on the night of the rape (which she doesn’t remember and on which she wore the pink coat but not the hat) there was a toxic leak at Fabian’s chemical plant resulting in a quarantine of the town (perhaps a reference to Kennedy’s quarantine of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis). And she imagines that, because of the leak, her unborn child is a mutant.
While watching this movie, associations with another film, ANTIBIRTH, kept coming to mind. Both films are about toxic American culture, and both center on a pregnancy resulting from date rape. They share similar images, including a disembodied head (well, the ceramic bust of Bobby is kind of like the disembodied head in ANTIBIRTH), and a billowing cloud of smoke (though the one in ANTIBIRTH is not purple). ANTIBIRTH could almost be a present day sequel to BANG BANG BABY, with the worst parts of Stepphy’s fantasies made real. (The similarity is completely coincidental. There is no actual connection between the two films.)
And BANG BANG BARY, unlike ANTIBIRTH, has a happy ending.
Peter Stormare (Stepphy’s dad) will be Czernobog in all ten episodes of the fantasy series AMERICAN GODS, the story of Shadow, a man with a past who wants nothing more than to live a quiet life with his wife and stay out of trouble. But his wife is killed in a terrible accident, and while flying home for the funeral he meets Mr. Wednesday, a mysterious fellow who knows far more than he should about Shadow’s personal history. AMERICAN GODS will premiere on STARZ on 30 April.
Justin Chatwin (Bobby Shore) has an as yet unspecified role in the film CHiPS (a reboot of the NBC TV series that ran from 1977-1983). The story of California Highway Patrol (CHiPs) officers Francis Poncherello and Jon Baker continues as the two run around the L.A. area stopping speeders and car thieves, helping stranded motorists, assisting paramedics at accident scenes, and occasionally investigating crimes. CHiPS the film, starring Michael Peña and Dax Shepard, will be in US theatres on 24 March. A trailer is available on YouTube.
Jane Levy (Stepphy) will be Dez in Episode One of TWIN PEAKS (a continuation of the award-winning ABC series that aired in 1990 and 1991). The original series followed the residents of a quaint northwestern town after their homecoming queen Laura Palmer was murdered. A quarter-century later, the story continues. Kyle MacLachlan will reprise his role as FBI Agent Dale Cooper, and there will be many other familiar faces. All 18 episodes of the new TWIN PEAKS are written by series creators David Lynch and Mark Frost, and all are directed by David Lynch. The first episode will air on SHOWTIME on 21 May at 9pm.