Tinseltown twist

A new film riffs on selling souls to rock 'n' roll.

IN THE HOLLYWOOD expos鳠and unauthorized biographies that pour forth from the gilded starscape of Los Angeles, treachery always lands a starring role. But while the truism "nice guys finish last" reigns as the prominent message in most movies about the movie biz, the music industry generally gets painted as a less sinister, maybe even level, playing field—where anyone who works hard can become a fabulously wealthy and famous rock star.

Sugar Town

co-written and directed by Allison Anders and Kurt Voss

starring Ally Sheedy, Rosanna Arquette, and John Taylor

opens October 1 at Broadway Market

Not in reality, of course, and not in the refreshingly honest Sugar Town. To punctuate the cruelties of the music world, the film is cast with several real-life rock stars last seen during their '80s heyday. Duran Duran's John Taylor looks decidedly pudgier than when he graced the locker doors and bedroom walls of teenage girls, and he anchors this offbeat ensemble cast with an admirable debut performance.

Taylor plays Clive, a former pop star with a spacious home and an actress wife, Eva (Rosanna Arquette). He is desperately trying to re-spark a career along with bandmates Nick (former Power Station singer Michael Des Barres) and Jonesy (Spandau Ballet's Martin Kemp). Soon they delude themselves into thinking that their horrid Nine Inch Nails rip-off single could somehow return them to fame.

RATHER THAN CENTERING on this one story, Sugar Town is an Altmanesque series of three overlapping vignettes shot over three weeks in an improvisational style. Its striking indie-rock soundtrack includes songs by Quasi and J Mascis, and by Seattle's Mike Johnson, Love As Laughter, and Allison Anders' daughter Tiffany.

In the second plot line, weathered studio guitarist Carl (X's John Doe) seeks to escape his rock 'n' roll past for the sake of his family—which includes a drug-addict brother in rehab (yet another Arquette, Richmond).

But he's less successful than Sugar Town's big winner, Gwen, played by the Meg Ryan-like Jade Gordon in the film's third story. She's a wannabe rock star with her sights set somewhere between Sheryl Crow and Courtney Love, and she scores a job as personal assistant to film production designer Liz (Ally Sheedy). Coldly manipulative and coy, Gwen double-crosses her boss as well as the junkie she's enlisted to pen her future hits—so, naturally, she soars to the top.

Like any good rock goddess in the making, Gwen knows how to twist the knife, and she always gets the last word. Her tale ends abruptly, as does this comically sly and mostly sharp-witted film. But its message—that betrayal spans all media—reverberates like a buzzing guitar solo.

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