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Cult Classic ’Jawbreaker’ on DVD :: Gays, Goths and Girls

by Joseph Erbentraut
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday May 20, 2011

When gay filmmaker Darren Stein released his darkly comedic teen horror film "Jawbreaker" in 1999, the world of American pop culture was a starkly different place: Stefani Germanotta was a teenage Catholic school student, Justin Bieber had only recently celebrated his fifth birthday and Twitter was still five years away from its initial launch.

Thanks to the film's re-release on Blu-ray this month, "Jawbreaker" is being newly introduced to the SMS generation -- in addition to anyone else who missed it the first time around. The film, depicting a clique -- "the Flawless Four," led by Courtney (Rose McGowan), a.k.a. "Satan in heels" -- of female high school students who inadvertently murder a classmate, is part of an ever-growing lineage of "mean girl" films that have shed light on the sometimes high costs associated with teenage angst.

EDGE recently caught up with Stein to talk about his cult favorite film, which he is currently in the process of reworking into a musical, as well as his other upcoming project: A forthcoming feature centered on a coven of witchy reality-television starlets.

The Blu-ray transfer

EDGE: How does it feel to be doing a fresh round of press interviews for the Blu-ray release of ’Jawbreaker,’ a film originally released over a decade ago? How does it feel for you to watch the film today?

Darren Stein: It’s interesting because I supervised the Blu-ray transfer Sony did and it was like seeing the film for the first time. The level of detail to the picture is so crisp and the colors are so saturated and rich, you see details you have never before seen in the film and it’s quite exciting as a filmmaker. I’m very honored that Sony chose to do the transfer and, as far as doing new press, it’s great. I feel like the film is getting exposed to new audiences every year and it speaks to a whole new batch of teenagers, especially what I call the three "G"s - the gays, the goths and the girls.

I think, beyond that, [the film] speaks to just about any kid. However normal you are, every kid has their dark side or insecurities or fantasy lives. It was nearly out of print on DVD and was hard to find before this transfer and as a filmmaker you can’t do much about that so it was great.

EDGE: Do you still stay in close contact with some of the film’s stars -- Rose McGowan, Rebecca Gayheart, Julie Benz -- today? What do they think of the film as they look back on it?

DS: We’re all still friends and it ebbs and flows because we’re all working on different projects at different times. There are years where I’m closer to Rose and years where I see a lot of Becky or Julie. There are times, too where Judy Greer and I have lunch a lot. It’s been nice because I do feel like the movie, because we were all so young when we made it, has managed to stand the test of time and we’re all bonded around it. I think we all have a mutual sort of love for each other because we all created it together. Even Carol Kane did a reading a the "Jawbreaker" musical in New York, so that was really fun to have a character from the movie participate in the musical version.

Jawbreaker: the Musical

EDGE: How is the musical version coming along? What was your impetus to embark on "Jawbreaker: the Musical?"

DS: It’s going well. I was called about two and a half or four years ago by a producer in New York who asked if I would consider doing "Jawbreaker" as a musical. He introduced me to these two guys -- Jordan Mann and Jeff Thomson -- who hadn’t even seen the film but wrote three songs on spec from seeing the movie the first time, these incredibly melodic, memorable pop rock songs.

It’s funny because my taste tends to veer more toward rock operas like "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Hair," "Rocky Horror" or "Hedwig" and it was exciting. I was originally going to be involved in a producer role because I felt it was something I had already done so why revisit it? They told me they didn’t want to do it without me. We’re just going through the process of having readings and workshops and finessing the material but we’re hoping to premiere it sometime very soon. We’re not sure yet it if will be in Los Angeles or New York or Seattle or somewhere. Whoever wants us, we’ll figure it out!

EDGE: So many movies have been adapted into musicals in recent history with varying degrees of success. Honestly, many of them -- here’s looking at you, "High Fidelity" -- have been wretched. How will "Jawbreaker" be different?

DS: I think the trick is not to be too slavish to the film and to really depart creatively from the source material, using the film as a jumping-off point but exploring new territories. You have to break it down and rebuild it for the stage because it’s a whole different arena for taking a story. It’s all about designing a show that emotionally fulfills the songs and that, inherently, creates a new art form in a way. It’s been a learning process because this is the first theater piece I’ve written.

EDGE: What led you to filmmaking, and specifically the dark comedy and horror genres, in the first place?

DS: I think it’s something you’re intrinsically born with and drawn to. It’s part of your soul in a weird way. I remember as a kid being very drawn to the band KISS and their collision of glamour and horror with androgyny, genderbending and rock and roll. Also, there was the first "Alien" movie, "The Shining" and "Poltergeist" and it was just something that I can’t say I was abused as a child or lonely, but maybe there’s sort of an otherness you feel as a child who is different that the horror genre or rock music speak to. They’re both sort of outsider forms of expression.

I was lucky to have parents who didn’t judge me for it or make me feel like I was a freak for being into horror. My mother allowed me to have a Fangoria subscription which I’m sure lots of other mothers wouldn’t. I remember buying KISS and Alice Cooper albums and joining the Tim Curry Fan Club. She even let me dress up as Tootsie in fifth or sixth grade when I went to school with the dress, wig, makeup, glasses and everything.

The ’mean girl’ thing

EDGE: Wow, that’s a supportive mama you have there! There have been so many takes on the "mean girl" or "gossip girl" story in popular culture since 1999 -- what are your thoughts on "mean girl" as a filmmaking trend which "Jawbreaker" was very much a part of?

DS: I think the story has a mythical quality to it of the length which we’ll go to in order to fit in and almost lose ourselves without really investigating our deeper truths as human beings and people. I remember seeing "Mean Girls" in the theater and at first I was a little taken aback because I felt like there was a lot of "Jawbreaker" in that movie, but there was a lot of "Heathers" in "Jawbreaker" and I think all three films can stand on their own feet apart from each other. They’re all different but they’re definitely in the same family of movies. I think with "Jawbreaker" it was the story of this evil girl gone awry, Courtney is so evil and she’s just in high school, and you don’t really know why. It’s something you can’t explain and I think that’s scarier for people.

EDGE: You’ve been able to work with some great Hollywood actors. Who is on your short list of folks you hope to one day collaborate with?

DS: I love Toni Collette, ever since "Muriel’s Wedding" and "Velvet Goldmine" and "The Hours." Everything she does is so unique and unusual, I’ve always wanted to work with her. And there’s Tilda Swinton. She’s somebody who’s always captured my imagination in everything she’s done. I also just saw "Bridesmaids" the other night and Kristen Wiig is such a revelation. She is brilliant and she can do anything. I see her doing something new with film because you don’t see a character quite like that too often. She’s relatable and real but also damaged.

EDGE: I wanted to ask you about that movie! There’s a lot of talk about this movie finally "proving" that female-led films can be profitable. It seems like this "debate" comes up every time a movie like this is released. What do you make of it?

DS: "Bridesmaids" was the funniest film I’ve seen in I can’t tell you how long. All of Judd Apatow’s movies are funny but I think what makes the film really transcend is that these characters are more complex because they’re female and there are intricacies to female relationships that have not been explored in mainstream films, especially in a comedic context. Now that door has been, as weird as it is to say, blown open within the studio system. These sorts of relationships have not been explored or embraced in this kind of context though since the ’80s with movies like "Working Girl" or "Broadcast News" with Holly Hunter in the lead.

EDGE: I understand you also are working on a new script about witches -- how is that project going?

DS: The witch project interestingly enough began as a reality-type thing. A friend of mine is kind of gothy but not a total witch -- she’s into astrology and tarot but wouldn’t call herself a witch. But I became intrigued by her group of friends -- these LA friends who dress primarily in black, one a stylist, one a chef for Billy Corgan, one plays an absinthe fairy in a bar downtown. I became intrigued by the idea of a modern day coven and what that would mean in today’s reality-obsessed culture where people like the Kardashians and the girls on the Hills are famous simply for being famous.

I pitched the show to a couple of reality producers and they were interested but weren’t sure the girls would fight enough or turn on each other. They needed the girls to be nasty to each other and the girls didn’t want to do that. I then came up with the idea for a film that these girls are put together for a reality show and, as it gains popularity, their egos spiral out of check and they turn on each other and become full-blown witches. It’s a supernatural thriller in the setting of a reality show gone amok. I’m hoping the film will get financed. I’m going the route first for it to be a studio film with a wider release and then attack it independently if I need to.

The DVD of "Jawbreaker" is available at Amazon.com. For more about "Jawbreaker: the Musical" visit the the show’s website.

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to www.joe-erbentraut.com to read more of his work.


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