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End credits include the following acknowledgements: “Thanks to: Sundance Institute, Alta Marea Productions, Fountainhead Inn, Casa Madrona Inn, Corrs Natural Beverages, Santa Rosa Plaza, California State Highway Patrol, the Santa Rosa Police, Frank’s 24-Hour Mini-Mart,” and, “The producer wishes to thank the Chambers of Commerce of Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, California, for their cooperation and help during the making of this film.”
       Smooth Talk marked Joyce Chopra’s directorial debut as a feature filmmaker. However, she was already an established documentarian who started her career as an apprentice to pioneer documentary filmmakers D. A. Pennebaker and Richard Leacock, as noted in a 6 Dec 1985 Reader article. While Smooth Talk was a screen adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s 1966 short story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?,” it was also informed by Chopra’s 1975 documentary, Girls at 12. As stated in a 22—28 Nov 1985 edition of LA Weekly, Girls at 12 followed three pre-teenaged girls in Waltham, MA, over six months, and parts of Smooth Talk were derived from the girls’ comments and actions. Chopra told LA Weekly that “Connie’s” line, “The boys are so nice to you,” replicated a scene in Girls at 12, and the sequence in which Connie strings beads while sitting on her bed was lifted from the documentary. Comparing Girls at 12 to Smooth Talk, Chopra reflected that her first feature film was a “deeply political movie.”
       According to Chopra, Girls at 12 allowed her and her husband, screenwriter Tom Cole, to develop ... More Less

End credits include the following acknowledgements: “Thanks to: Sundance Institute, Alta Marea Productions, Fountainhead Inn, Casa Madrona Inn, Corrs Natural Beverages, Santa Rosa Plaza, California State Highway Patrol, the Santa Rosa Police, Frank’s 24-Hour Mini-Mart,” and, “The producer wishes to thank the Chambers of Commerce of Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, California, for their cooperation and help during the making of this film.”
       Smooth Talk marked Joyce Chopra’s directorial debut as a feature filmmaker. However, she was already an established documentarian who started her career as an apprentice to pioneer documentary filmmakers D. A. Pennebaker and Richard Leacock, as noted in a 6 Dec 1985 Reader article. While Smooth Talk was a screen adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s 1966 short story, “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?,” it was also informed by Chopra’s 1975 documentary, Girls at 12. As stated in a 22—28 Nov 1985 edition of LA Weekly, Girls at 12 followed three pre-teenaged girls in Waltham, MA, over six months, and parts of Smooth Talk were derived from the girls’ comments and actions. Chopra told LA Weekly that “Connie’s” line, “The boys are so nice to you,” replicated a scene in Girls at 12, and the sequence in which Connie strings beads while sitting on her bed was lifted from the documentary. Comparing Girls at 12 to Smooth Talk, Chopra reflected that her first feature film was a “deeply political movie.”
       According to Chopra, Girls at 12 allowed her and her husband, screenwriter Tom Cole, to develop Connie’s social and family relationships in Smooth Talk. While Oates’s “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” revolves almost entirely around Connie’s encounter with her seducer, “Arnold Friend,” Smooth Talk includes sixty minutes of exposition which establishes Connie’s background before Friend arrives at her doorstep. Connie’s film character deviates from “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?,” but the dramatization of Arnold Friend stays close to the text. In her Reader interview, Chopra estimated that “70 percent of the dialogue” during the seduction sequence matched Oates’s narrative, but Friend’s role as a killer is more ambiguous in the movie.
       Chopra believed “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” ends in an ultimate seduction: Connie leaves home to give up not only her virginity, but also her life. In a 23 Mar 1986 NYT article written by Joyce Carol Oates in response to the screen adaptation of her work, the author revealed that Arthur Friend was based on a real-life, pre-Charles Manson serial killer, “The Pied Piper of Tuscon.” The killer charmed young girls into aiding and abetting his crimes. Oates initially titled the short story “Death and the Maiden” after a German medieval engraving, and described it as a “realistic allegory” of fatal attraction in which “an innocent young girl is seduced by way of her own vanity: she mistakes death for erotic romance of a particularly American/trashy sort.”
       By the time “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” was published, Connie’s “victim” role evolved from earlier drafts, making her a heroic protagonist at the forefront of the narrative. Oates credited Bob Dylan’s 1965 song “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” as inspiration to make Connie more complicit in her own demise, and “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” was dedicated to Dylan. Although Oates contended that Connie’s fate was ambiguous in her story, she also noted that the heroine made a conscious sacrifice to Friend: “Her smooth-talking seducer, who cannot lie, promises her that her family will be unharmed if she gives herself to him; and so she does. The story ends abruptly at the point of her ‘crossing over.’ We don’t know the nature of her sacrifice, only that she is generous enough to make it.” At the conclusion of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?,” Connie leaves with Friend, uncertain what will become of her.
       While Oates’s story leaves Connie’s fate unclear, Smooth Talk portrays the girl’s return home after going off with Friend. However, the details of their encounter remain unknown and Connie later tells her sister, that “it didn’t really happen,” implying the sequence could have been a dream. Chopra shot two lines of dialogue that evidenced Connie and Friend’s sexual tryst, but it was cut from the final film. Chopra told the Reader that the sequence was unnecessary because Friend “was engaged in a power play with Connie and once he got her out the door it was over for him. He had his victory… I don’t think he was particularly interested in the sexual act; it was to get her out in the car and have that control over her.” Joyce Carol Oates felt that Smooth Talk reversed the conclusion of “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?,” noting, “The film ends not with death… but upon a sense of reconciliation, rejuvenation.”
       Another point of divergence between the short story and the film was Smooth Talk’s thorough representation of Connie’s parents, “Katherine” and “Harry.” In her NYT article, Oates noted that Smooth Talk was unlike her story because it explored maternal love as well as teen angst. Oates also praised the filmmakers for exposing an ambiguous sexual rapport between Connie and her father, and stated that she often wished she had added that flourish to “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” However, Oates believed Connie’s mother was subconsciously jealous of her daughter, and that tension was not sufficiently portrayed in the movie. Although Oates was pleased with the adaptation, she was not interested in working on the production, and she and Chopra never met, according to a 28 Feb 1986 NYT report.
       Smooth Talk took visual cues from the paintings of French modern artist Balthus and photographer Joel Meyerowitz’s 1979 book Cape Light, a collection of color images shot in Cape Cod, MA, according a 30 May 1986 Chicago Tribune article. Specifically, the scene in which Connie hides from Friend in her home’s hallway was modeled after one of Meyerowitz’s photographs.
       Chopra and Tom Cole reportedly infused the film with East Coast imagery, inspired by their rural home in Kent, CT, but production took place in Northern CA, in fall 1984. Onscreen credits specify Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, CA, as primary locations. As stated in a 29 Mar 1986 Washington Post article, the first scene to be filmed in the thirty-one day shooting schedule was the final sequence of the movie, in which Connie is seduced by Arnold Friend. The Chicago Tribune added that actress Laura Dern was not cast in the role of Connie until several weeks before filming got underway. A relative unknown at the time, the young actress was recommended to Chopra by Dern’s neighbor, Nancy Ellison, who served as a special still photographer on set. The Washington Post reported a sequence of coincidences that secured Dern’s placement in the film, even though she had never been cast in a leading role. Chopra said that she knew Dern was perfect for the part when she telephoned the girl and heard James Taylor’s little-known 1979 song “Is That The Way You Look?” on her answering machine. Unknown to Dern, James Taylor was the film’s music director, as well as a friend and neighbor of Joyce Chopra and Tom Cole. When Taylor first volunteered his services on the production, he suggested using “Is That The Way You Look?” as a featured song on the soundtrack.
       Taylor also licensed his version of the Jimmy Jones and Otis Blackwell song, “Handy Man,” to punctuate two moments in the film. According to Chopra in her Reader interview, Handy Man was the movie’s working title and the song inspired the last scene of the film, which was unwritten when production began. Connie’s last line, “Do you still like this song?,” was a reference to “Handy Man” and to Arnold Friend, whom Chopra defined as “a false Handy Man.” Undated DV production charts also listed Where Are You Going? as a working title.
       Smooth Talk was completed for $1,080,000, as stated in a 17 Mar 1986 WSJ article. Producer Martin Rosen, a longtime friend of Chopra and Cole’s, cut costs by convincing the crew to work for one-third of their standard pay, and the three starring actors – Laura Dern, Treat Williams, and Mary Kay Place – agreed to perform for Screen Actors Guild (SAG) minimums. Initial funding came from the Public Broadcasting Service’s (PBS) American Playhouse, the backers of Joyce Chopra’s 1982 television adaptation of Tom Cole’s play, Medal of Honor Rag, and the balance was covered by Goldcrest Film International, a British production company that financed Martin Rosen’s English animated feature, Watership Down (1972). A 15 Feb 1986 Screen International article noted that Spectrafilm acquired domestic distribution rights upon the film’s completion.
       On 15 Nov 1985, Smooth Talk opened in Los Angeles, CA, for limited release to qualify for Academy Award consideration. It screened on 7 Feb 1986 at the Sundance Institute’s U.S. Film Festival in Park City, UT, and won the Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic). It opened in wide release in late-Feb 1986 to critical acclaim.
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Chicago Tribune
30 May 1986
Section J, p. G, J.
Daily Variety
16 Jun 1986.
---
Daily Variety
16 Jun 1986.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Sep 1985
p. 3.
LA Weekly
22-28 Nov 1985
p. 57.
Los Angeles Times
14 Nov 1985
p. 1, 16.
New York Times
28 Feb 1986.
---
New York Times
28 Feb 1986
p. 17.
New York Times
23 Mar 1986
p. 1, 22.
Reader
6 Dec 1985
Section 1, pp. 14-15.
Screen International
15 Feb 1986.
---
Variety
18 Sep 1985
p. 20.
Washington Post
29 Mar 1986
Section C.
WSJ
17 Mar 1986.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Goldcrest presents
An American Playhouse/Nepenthe production
Produced by Nepenthe Productions, Inc., Marin County, California
in association with American Playhouse
with funds from Public Television Stations, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting
and the National Endowment for the Arts
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
Asst to the dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITER
Scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Addl photog
Addl photog
Spec still photog
Addl still photog
Gaffer
Best boy
Key grip
Dolly
Dolly grip
2d grip
Grip driver
Grip driver
Grip driver
Grip driver
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dept asst
Art dept asst
Storyboard artist
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
Editing intern
Negative cutter
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Prop master
Asst prop master
Set const
COSTUMES
Ward mistress
Ward asst
Ward asst
MUSIC
Mus comp and prod by
Mus comp and prod by
Mus comp and prod by
Mus dir
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Boom op
Re-rec mixer
Foley artist
Re-rec at
Berkeley, California
VISUAL EFFECTS
Title des
Titles and opticals by
San Francisco, California
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
West Coast casting
Unit mgr
Asst to the unit mgr
Loc mgr
Asst to the loc mgr
Prod coord
Prod office mgr
Prod legal consultant
Prod accountant
Asst to the prod
Asst to the prod
Transportation coord
Utility
Driver
California casting asst
Extras casting coord
Extras casting asst
Key set asst
Set prod asst
Set prod asst
Set prod asst
Set prod asst
Set prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Teacher
Loc equip supplied by
Sausalito, California
STAND INS
Stunt coord
COLOR PERSONNEL
Timer
Processing by
San Francisco, California
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates in Epoch (Fall 1966).
SONGS
“Limousine Driver,” performed by James Taylor, courtesy of Columbia Records
“Handy Man,” performed by James Taylor, courtesy of Columbia Records
“Is That The Way You Look,” performed by James Taylor, courtesy of Columbia Records
+
SONGS
“Limousine Driver,” performed by James Taylor, courtesy of Columbia Records
“Handy Man,” performed by James Taylor, courtesy of Columbia Records
“Is That The Way You Look,” performed by James Taylor, courtesy of Columbia Records
"Cruisin' Love," performed by Rachel Sweet, courtesy of Columbia Records
“You Don’t Want Me,” performed by Franke and the Knockouts, courtesy of Millenium Entertainment Corp.
“Come Rain Or Shine,” performed by Franke and the Knockouts, courtesy of Millenium Entertainment Corp.
“Safe In The City,” performed by Richard Taylor, courtesy of Euthanasia
“Seduction,” performed by Richard Taylor and David Carlson, courtesy of Euthanasia
“Silent Submission,” performed by Richard Taylor, courtesy of Euthanasia.
+
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Handy Man
Where Are You Going?
Release Date:
15 November 1985
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 15 Nov 1985; New York opening: 28 Feb 1986
Production Date:
fall 1984
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses
Ultracam 35 cameras and lenses provided by Leonetti Cine Rentals, Hollywood, California
Duration(in mins):
92
MPAA Rating:
PG-13
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Northern California, fifteen-year-old Connie spends the summer cavorting at a shopping mall with two friends, Laura and Jill. The three want nothing more than to allure young men. Meanwhile, Connie’s mother, Katherine, struggles to fix up the family’s dilapidated farmhouse. She is annoyed by Connie’s insolence and “trashy daydreams,” but Connie’s father, Harry, reveres his daughter. While congratulating himself for buying the makeshift property, he overlooks the trials of his wife and homely older daughter, June, who has joined the workforce to support the upkeep of their household. One evening, Connie and her rebellious accomplice, Laura, pretend to go to the movies but sneak away to a hamburger stand where older teens meet. Wearing a revealing halter top, Connie catches the eye of an older man named Arnold Friend. However, she leaves with Jeff, a recent high school graduate, and kisses him in his car. Gratified by her conquest, Connie warms to her mother and helps paint the house that afternoon, but she brushes off her mother’s conciliatory embrace. Just then, Connie’s friend, Jill, stops by to inform Connie about a mysterious man who has been inquiring about her. Connie falsely assumes her secret admirer is Jeff. As Connie revels in her budding sexuality, Jill leaves dejected without revealing the identity of Connie’s suitor. Back at the hamburger stand, Connie partners with a boy named Eddie. When their liaison becomes too steamy, Connie runs away to her meeting spot with Laura, but the girl is nowhere to be found. Calling Laura from a telephone booth, Connie learns that her friend has been punished for sneaking ... +


In Northern California, fifteen-year-old Connie spends the summer cavorting at a shopping mall with two friends, Laura and Jill. The three want nothing more than to allure young men. Meanwhile, Connie’s mother, Katherine, struggles to fix up the family’s dilapidated farmhouse. She is annoyed by Connie’s insolence and “trashy daydreams,” but Connie’s father, Harry, reveres his daughter. While congratulating himself for buying the makeshift property, he overlooks the trials of his wife and homely older daughter, June, who has joined the workforce to support the upkeep of their household. One evening, Connie and her rebellious accomplice, Laura, pretend to go to the movies but sneak away to a hamburger stand where older teens meet. Wearing a revealing halter top, Connie catches the eye of an older man named Arnold Friend. However, she leaves with Jeff, a recent high school graduate, and kisses him in his car. Gratified by her conquest, Connie warms to her mother and helps paint the house that afternoon, but she brushes off her mother’s conciliatory embrace. Just then, Connie’s friend, Jill, stops by to inform Connie about a mysterious man who has been inquiring about her. Connie falsely assumes her secret admirer is Jeff. As Connie revels in her budding sexuality, Jill leaves dejected without revealing the identity of Connie’s suitor. Back at the hamburger stand, Connie partners with a boy named Eddie. When their liaison becomes too steamy, Connie runs away to her meeting spot with Laura, but the girl is nowhere to be found. Calling Laura from a telephone booth, Connie learns that her friend has been punished for sneaking out at night. Although Connie is left stranded, she is terrified of her parents’ disapproval and rushes home in the dark, dodging unwelcome overtures from intoxicated boys. The following morning, Katherine is informed about the girls’ ruse by Laura’s mother and threatens to punish Connie if she is caught having sex. When Connie complains that her mother set a poor example by getting pregnant at an early age, Katherine slaps the girl and their relationship becomes more troubled. Connie is consoled in her room by her older sister, June. As Connie extols the virtues of being desirable to men, she unwittingly insults June by presuming the young woman has never been propositioned. Later, Connie’s father, Harry, insists that she join him for a drive to the store even though she is still wearing her nightshirt. He questions Connie’s jaunts to the hamburger stand but she convinces him of her safety. Upon returning home with groceries for a family barbeque, Connie remains sullen toward her mother and refuses to go to the party. An uneventful and lonely afternoon passes, and Connie is surprised by the arrival of a handsome stranger, Arnold Friend, who drives up to the house in a gold convertible emblazoned with his name. Friend is a grown man, but speaks with teen colloquialisms and declares he wishes to be “A. Friend” to Connie. He introduces the girl to his peculiar male sidekick, Ellie Oscar, and urges her to join them for a drive. When Friend announces that he has been following Connie since he first spotted her at the hamburger stand, she does not recall seeing him and is disturbed by his intimate knowledge of her life. Repelled and aroused, Connie retreats to her house and barricades herself behind a flimsy screen door. Connie tells Friend to leave, but he exploits her insecurity, luring her with promises of sexual fulfillment and adoration. Just then, Connie is startled by Ellie Oscar, who yells from the convertible to ask Friend if he should cut the telephone wire to the house. Connie runs to check the line and cries for her mother. The phone still works, but she does not call for help. Meanwhile Friend eases himself into the house and stands at the doorway. He convinces Connie that her family does not understand her longings and promises to help her cross over into an exciting new world of womanhood. Mesmerized, Connie follows Friend outside and drives away with him while Ellie stays at the house. When Connie returns, she orders Friend to keep away for good. She reunites with her family, and embraces her mother. June joins Connie in her room and asks about her sister’s afternoon. Connie admits she went for a ride with a strange man, then claims the incident “didn’t even happen.” As June stares in confusion, Connie turns on a cassette tape and invites her sister to dance. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.