For years, John Sayles’ third movie, Baby It’s You (1983) was unavailable on DVD. But I saw it on the Netflix site last week. What a pleasant surprise. It hadn’t been released because of something to do with clearing music rights (Altman’s buddy movie, California Split, had similar troubles, though it too now is on DVD). Baby It’s You was the first theatrically released movie to feature the music of Bruce Springsteen.
I first saw it on VHS more than fifteen years ago and thought it was a charming coming-of-age story about a tough Italian kid (the Shiek, played by Vincent Spano) and a middle-class Jewish girl (Jill Rosen, played by Rosanna Arquette) set in Trenton, New Jersey in the Sixties. Arquette has never been better. I don’t know if Sayles has either.
Sayles has made some interesting, thoughtful movies, but I’ve always found his directing style clunky. The story here is nothing innovative but the direction, the cinematography, the performances (and yes, the soundtrack) all have an emotional directness that is winning.
Music is a major part of ”Baby, It’s You,” as the title may indicate. The score consists of rock songs that more or less correspond to the time, although Sheik’s entrances are accompanied by Bruce Springsteen songs; these may be anachronistic, but they suit Sheik to a T. These touches, as well as the generally impeccable period details and the evocative cinematography by Michael Ballhaus (who shot many of R.W. Fassbinder’s later films), suggest that ”Baby, It’s You” was a labor of love for everyone involved.