June 29th, 2004

I Will Not Defame New Orleans.

“I Don’t Know Who ‘Myself’ Is!”

Reason #327 why I love my boyfriend: He sleuths the internet and buys me “Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway”, or, “Jan Brady: Street Ho ’76.” I've been looking for this diamond-in-the-turd for years!

You may or may not be aware of my extreme, nearly pathological obsession with All Things Eve Plumb, spawning from a healthy dose of fucked up psychology implicit in the wretchedly tragic character of Jan Brady. Jan's typical day makes Ophelia's demise seem like a summer dip in a cheery crick. You may or may not agree with my anology, nor care about this obsession, but the fact remains: the discs arrived yesterday! And now you have to hear about it!

We just watched the first one – for there were two! There was “Dawn…” in 1976, which was, as the box art claims, a “drama that shocked the nation” to such a degree that a year later the same inept producers coughed up “Alexander: The Other Side of Dawn,” like another hairball. I haven’t watched that yet. Like Jan in the first movie, I am reticent to give my cherry up too quickly, but I tell ya, as I sit on Ben’s balcony typing this, I can almost feel the urgent vibrations that other disc is sending me from the living room. I’m choosing to ignore it, waiting for another rainy day. But it's calling to me. Oh, how it calls.

But back to The Genesis of Dawn. From the opening scene, Jan Brady (for I can only think of her as such) leaves her goofy alcoholic mother’s house in Indiana (which looks suspiciously like southern California), gets on a bus, and revels in a series of badly cut flashbacks showing us, in less than five minutes, why it was imperitive that she run away. You see, mom confronted her at a school dance, drunkenly informing her that men are bad. There’s some slapping involved. And I can’t convey how much envy I felt for the woman who got to slap Jan Brady! Ben must still have fingernail marks on his thigh as I clenched in horrific glee.

Jan talks with her younger, equally blonde, floor-staring, questionably-autistic little brother: “It’s always mom first!” cries Dawn. The retarded brother cheers her on with oatmeal delivery of the line, “You first, Dawn.”

She spends a day walking around the ‘crazy’ town of Los Anguhleeze, rolling her eyes at the kooks and crazies who live in the Big crazy City. Oh my god! A boy with a tattoo! Oh look! Fat people! Gracious! A pregnant teen! Heavens me! A hooker! Clean-cut Dawn, dressed in oppressive clothes probably pilfered from the Brady props department, clearly does not identify with these urban ne’er-do-wells. (Forshadowing much?)

Dawn is picked up by Alexander, the impossibly sentimental and naïve boy hustler, who does not desire her for her body, but just wants to help this little Jan-Gone-Astray. Come live with me, he says. “Well,” says Jan, clutching her ubiquitous brown paper bag filled with mystery items, “maybe just for one night.”

Weeks later, Jan meets an animated hooker who ‘jovially’ tells her that a woman in L.A. has simply no other option than be a ho, so Jan goes to 'Swan', the ‘protector’, and enlists in the service, so to speak. Swan shows her ‘tough love’, petting her, making her feel at home, then accusing rudely, “You’re ugly. I look at you and I see trash.” (Gasp! Blasphemer!)

She scores her first john, who either beats her, or doesn’t pay her – the plot gets a little fuzzy there – and calls in a frantic life-line for Alexander to bail her out of her predicament as she weeps, blouse-akimbo, on the motel bed pleading, “Don’t look at me!” If I may just mention here how thrilling it was to see a disheveled Jan Brady, broken and popped, weeping on a cheap motel mattress – well, you know. You know.

Suddenly in the very next scene, Jan’s a pro. (You've come a long way, baby!) She’s procured a red satin bell-bottomed pantsuit and a hewge! coat made of bunny or rat or something and hewwwwwwge white porn-star glasses that take up most of her face. The hair is up, and so’s the lingo! The unbelievable innocence that has thus far plagued her character has given way to equally unbelievable callousness. It’s like she’s been doing it for 20 years. Alexander (who hubristically spends the entire production painting a mural of Alexander the Great on his cold-water flat wall) is heartbroken. He does not want her to become like he is. No worries, Alexander the Great! You remain stupidly compassionate and caring, but Jan’s destined to cold-hearted bitchery punctuated by cliché abusive one-liners! You two couldn’t be more disparate!

He confronts her, “You’ve got to know yourself!” or some such drivel, to which she replies, “I don’t know who ‘myself’ is!” This is such a monumentally badly written line, and delivered even worse, that I nearly peed myself, and it will forever remain in my lexicon, filed under Zoolander's plaintive narcissistic puddle conversation, “Who. Am. I?”

I should mention, by the way, that Alexander is played by one of the hottest hunks ever to grace 70s made-for-tv features. Think Ashton Kutcher, but without all that calculated desperation, yawn-yawn. When he finally lost his shirt, Ben and I screamed like the little girls we secretly are. This boy’s pulchritude has a great deal to do with my painful anticipation of the other disc sitting on the coffee table which purports to be about his street hustling in great detail, and with more shirtless scenes, we can only assume.

But let’s focus on Dawn, because she certainly is! She seems to be getting in touch with that elusive ‘myself’ that she couldn’t find before (“Am I Jan! Am I Dawn! Am I Jan! Am I Eve!”). Alexander, who, it should be mentioned, has not slept with this tart, nor seems at all interested in her sexually, has somehow talked her ‘hardboiled’, fact-pummeling Jamaican parole officer into actually caring (suspension of disbelief much?) and they stage an intervention of sorts. Dawn is a foul-tempered harpy at this point who ends every conversation with, “I’m going to work!” She storms out of the intervention with a similar exit line.

The parole officer gives up. “She’s a lost cause.” “No! Help her!” cries Alexander. “I don’t need help! I’m doing great!” counters Jan unconvincingly. “I can’t care about you two because you’re both clichés!” – a rare moment of honesty from the screenwriter.

For some reason, Alexander is not sick of her shit yet, professing a special, enduring kind of love only found on the Lifetime channel. In cheesey 70s stop-motion footage, they finally fuck. I was outraged, thinking, “Jan doesn’t get to kiss the hot hunky soap star. Marcia does!” Jan tells her sleeping, post-coital hunk of a boyfriend, “I have nothing left to give,” returning some Home Shopping Network trinket of jewelry that he gave her earlier. Saddling up in her white mules, she’s off to work that booty again.

More frantic chases, more confrontations, more Jan storming away, more chases, more confrontations (“GOD this is preachy!” wailed Ben in real pain), and in a culminating, gripping scene in the pimp’s well-appointed lobby (???) Alexander asks her the big, inevitable, very boring question: “Was I just another john?” “Yes you were!” spits Jan venomously. He turns to leave. Oops, she’s changed her mind again. “No wait! I lied!” They bust through the knife-wielding pimp and suddenly Jan’s back in Jan Brady clothes, on a bus back to Indiana (or Van Nuys, whichever is closer), leaving Alexander behind. Mom’s in AA, Down syndrome brother hugs Jan wetly, and everybody admits fallability and agrees to work out their problems in the future, as a family, proving, once and for all, that although the world is a cold, cruel place, everything is really rosy … for Jan.

Well, sorta.

I think I found the reason why this is never rebroadcast (because you know I've been watching the listings for years waiting to finally see this). No, not because it sucks, thilly! It's very expensive, not for the royalties to the filmakers, but usually to lease the music used in the soundtrack. And while the opening sequence song, written, I assume, for this piece of trash, shouldn't cost much in royalties, The Runaway's "Ch-ch-ch-ch-CHERRY BOMB!" (!!!) would.

In conclusion, wehrkraft just suggested that I turn this movie into a drinking game. Ohhhh my. Stay tuned.