Shoplifters Of The World (
Director: Stephen Kijak )
Cast: Joe Manganiello, Ellar Coltrane, Helena Howard, Elena Kampouris, Nick Krause, James Bloor
"It does not literally mean picking up a loaf of bread or a watch and sticking it in your coat pocket. It's more or less spiritual shoplifting, cultural shoplifting, taking things and using them to your own advantage." --Morrissey on “Shoplifters of the World Unite” 1987
“Cultural shoplifting, indeed.” -- Alarcon on Shoplifters of the World, 2021
Myths are always far more interesting than the truths, especially rock and roll myths. Did Jim Morrison really drop trou in front of a rowdy Florida audience? Did Mama Cass actually choke to death on a ham sandwich? Did an overwrought Smiths fan hijack a radio station at gunpoint, forcing the DJ to play the band’s songs after finding out they had just split?
No, no, and no. No to all of them. In reality, none of the incidents listed above ever happened the way their popular myths have been handed down over the decades. Sure, there’s a tiny sliver of truth in each of them, but as usual, the legend is far more interesting than what really happened.
In all actuality, Morrison did reach into his leather trousers and fumble around his nether regions. He certainly flirted with the idea of whipping out the fifth member of The Doors, but according to guitarist Robby Krieger who was only a few feet away from Jim at the Florida concert in question, it never happened.
And when Mama Cass Elliot was found lifeless in the bed of her loaned London apartment, the first doctor on the scene discovered a partially eaten ham sandwich on a nearby nightstand. (He assumed she choked to death.) When asked about how she died, the doctor shared his flimsy hoagie theory with the press. An autopsy later revealed there was no food in Mama’s stomach or windpipe -- heart failure was the case -- but the ham sandwich story had already made the evening news.
As for that Smiths fan who commandeered a radio station and forced the DJ to play a Smiths marathon of hits? Well, here’s what really happened…
During the fall of 1988, at the height of the Smiths’ supernatural powers, a young man named James Kiss bought a new Remington .22 caliber Apache 77 rifle with the intention of driving to Y108 FM, the most popular and bland radio station in the greater Denver region. (The Lakewood, Colorado station was a mere seven miles away from the suburban Arvada home he shared with his parents. Coincidentally, Morrissey spent a pre-fame summer in Arvada at his Aunt Mary’s home where he, among other things, attempted to form a band, going as far as placing a “musicians wanted” advert in the local Rocky Mountain News periodical.)
Once he got past the station’s receptionist, Kiss would force his way into the DJ booth and play nothing but Smiths songs. At this point, one pictures the scene in The Shawshank Redemption where Andy Dufresne locks himself in the Warden's office and plays a recording of “Le Nozze di Figaro” over the prison’s PA system. Kiss surely hoped that those within listening distance of Y108 would be as transfixed by Johnny Marr’s shimmering guitar or Morrissey’s angelic voice as those hardened old convicts were of “what those two Italian ladies were singing about.”
Considering he was only 18 and had no experience operating professional broadcasting equipment, Kiss was prepared to force the DJ to operate the board at gunpoint. The only problem was that Y108 was a strict Top 40 radio station -- its DJ booth was filled with Def Leppard and New Kids on the Block records. There was little chance that there’d be a Smiths record to spin, but Kiss planned ahead for this problem, too.
Along with his rifle, Kiss packed a bag of provisions: a box of live ammunition, one LP (Louder Than Bombs) and six cassettes (The Smiths, Meat is Murder, The Queen is Dead, Strangeways, Hatful of Hollow, and Morrissey’s recently-released Viva Hate. - How was Morrissey’s Viva Hate in existence when this film is about the Smiths’ sudden and unexpected break-up? I’ll get to that later.)
Kiss even performed deep reconnaissance before his mission. He would visit the radio station over 20 times in the six months leading up to his actual takeover. A few times, he actually ventured into the station and chatted up the receptionist in order to get the lay of the land inside.
Kiss also left his parents a note, just in case he didn’t make it back. The only problem is that Kiss never made it in the building. He got cold feet in the parking lot and instead of carrying through with his plan, our hero voluntarily handed his Apache 77 over to the first person he saw upon arrival at the station. That person was Greg Fadick, the Y108 production director who was just about to drive home after a long 10-hour workday.
Looking at the official police report of the incident, Fadick said he was walking towards his car around 5pm, but was stopped by a kid in a weathered Oldsmobile station wagon. The kid mumbled something unintelligible to him, and when Fadick walked closer to the Oldsmobile, the kid behind the wheel said, "Tell those people [the radio station employees] to call the police." Kiss then handed the rifle to Fadick, and waited for the local authorities to arrive on the scene to arrest him.
And unceremoniously, that was it.
There was no protest in the form of a radio-transmitted Smiths marathon. James Kiss never even made it through the building’s front door. Now isn’t the myth of the distraught Smiths fan much more interesting than the truth?
Shoplifters of the World’s screenwriter and director, Stephen Kijak thought so. So did Lorianne Hall, the film’s producer, and the same goes for actor Joe Manganiello (he plays the hostaged DJ with a serious case of Stockholm syndrome) who reportedly got Morrissey’s personal approval in 2016 to greenlight this tall tale.
Ultimately, Shoplifters makes a meal out of the myth; a myth which really just boiled down to teenage rebellion, Smiths fanaticism, and clinical depression. Kiss didn’t want to hijack a radio station to protest the Smiths’ breakup. He wanted to hijack the radio station because he was sad, he was lonely, he was facing a major surgery, and he just thought he wasn’t made for a world filled with so much hate and cruelness. He only chose the Smiths as the soundtrack to his protest because he was a fan, and as he put it in the police report, the Smiths "play music about how insensitive everyone is.”
Had Kiss really held Y108 FM hostage in protest of the Smiths split as Shoplifters leads us to believe, it would have taken place a year earlier during the summer of 1987. That said, Shoplifters isn’t wholly about a Smiths fan’s quest to force unsuspecting Denver radio listeners to appreciate the Smiths’ legacy, but it is the tentpole from which the movie clings to for dear life.
When Cleo (relative newcomer Helena Howard) states “I wish there was a way to get all the posers in this town to take notice” of the Smiths breakup only to be seen unironically smoking with a cigarette holder in a follow-up scene, our film’s second act begins.
From there, a local Denver radio station is hijacked by an armed, impassioned Smiths fan swimming in a puddle of unrequited love, while Cleo and her small group of tight-knit, popular friends continue to mourn the sudden dissolution of the Smiths.
From there, Cleo and friends traipse around Denver, blowing off a little steam, waving stalks of flowers in solidarity, and pondering the meaning of life. You know, like how all Smiths fans reacted when the band broke up. (How those kids were able to find bushels of gladioli past standard florist hours in Denver is beyond me.)
All editorial liberties set aside, the film is gorgeously filmed and edited, and seemed big, even on my 13-inch MacBook Air, although the Smiths lyrics peppered throughout the script seemed forced, incredibly cringeworthy, and lacked nuance. Though one can imagine the strength of what the Shoplifters soundtrack will sound like in a proper theater with high-fidelity speakers blasting the glammy “Sheila Take a Bow” in surround sound.
So the question remains: Can Shoplifters of the World live up to the myth from whence it was born?
You can answer that question with another question: Has a film based on a band as adored and adulated as the Smiths ever lived up to the myth?
Shoplifters of the World will be in theaters March 26, 2021
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Main Photo: WestEnd Films