Penelope Spheeris

Feature Film

»When I did Suburbia, none of those kids were actors. I felt like it was much easier to turn punk rock kids into actors than it was to turn actors into punk rockers. I always felt it didn’t feel right when actors did it, it felt phony. I think I was right in using those kids in my movies, they were reality and people sort of gravitate towards reality. Casting is the most important part of a movie – besides the script.«
– Penelope Spheeris

It’s Los Angeles in the 1980s and Evan and his kid brother Ethan hang out with a group of punks. Like the brothers, they have fled their miserable home circumstances. They have brushed with the law; they call themselves »The Rejected«. Together, they inhabit a derelict barricaded building where they form a tight ersatz family somehow making do with tapped electricity and stolen food. But when the punks start to encroach on the suburbia of the middle classes, this comes up against hefty resistance from a community organisation that goes under the name of »Citizens against Criminality«.

Three years after making her ground-breaking documentary film about the punk scene in Los Angeles The Decline of Western Civilisation (1980), Penelope Spheeris used Suburbia to take the topic further. It’s a hard-hitting snapshot, as it were, where sympathies clearly lie with the punks. The young people are played mostly by street kids and musicans including »Flea«, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bass player. Plus, the nascent punk scene found in producer Roger Corman the perfect kindred spirit: his cheap and dirty production and DIY aesthetics suit the punk movement down to the ground.

Film programme Exploitation

Director / Script

Penelope Spheeris


Tim Suhrstedt


Ross Albert, Michael Oleksinski


Sandy Berman


Alex Gibson


Chris Pedersen, Bill Coyne, Jennifer Clay, Timothy O’ Brien, Wade Walston, Michael »Flea« Balzary


Roger Corman

Penelope Spheeris

As early as 1974, the Los Angeles-based Rock’n Reel in was the first production company to specialise in music videos. And it was Penelope Spheeris who founded it, having started her career as a film editor and cinematographer. Alice Cooper, Fleetwood Mac and Queen are among the artists she made video clips for. Her film debut came in 1979 with The Decline of Western Civilisation – a documentary about the punk scene in Los Angeles that achieved cult status. The social situation of young people accompanies her work to this day – with music often providing the access to the artistic whole. In 1988 and 1997, she made Parts II and III of The Decline of Western Civilisation, highlighting the 1980s heavy-metal scene and the 1990s punk scene respectively. In the meantime, she has produced a good number of music videos, documentaries and feature films. Ms Spheeris still lives and works in in Los Angeles.

Films by Penelope Shpeeris (Selection)
Balls to the Wall 2011 | The Kid and I 2005 | We Sold Our Souls for Rock’n Roll 2000 | Senseless 1998 | Black Sheep 1996 | The Little Rascals 1994 | The Beverly Hillbillies 1993 | Wayne’s World 1992 | Dudes 1987 | The Decline of Western Civilisation 1980