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BLANK CITY is a surprisingly sterile account of the New York City underground film movement of the late 70's and early 80's, covering such directors as Amos Poe, Richard Kern, Charlie Ahearn, Jim Jarmusch, etc. The film fatally falters in spending its 90 minutes proselytizing to the uninitiated, taming its overly slick presentation into a film that lacks all of the rage, cynical sincerity or glorious bloodletting of the Cinema of Transgression that it attempts to tell the history of. The filmmakers were unfortunately in such bleary-eyed awe of what they were being told by those in front of their cameras to question it and search for the real film here: which is not a prolonged multi-voiced soliloquy on how "undeniably and vitally important" this movement was, but rather the reality of these filmmakers' obscurity. I arrived to the film well familiar with many of the filmmakers, if not the films, included in BLANK CITY and I can say I am a fan. But there is a reason most people have not heard of Nick Zedd, et al. And that is that the films are enjoyably merely as a bratty novelties. They do not really survive as any great artistic achievements. The people who made them were hardly the geniuses herded together in, say, the French New Wave or the new American cinema of the 1960's and 70's. And BLANK CITY, god bless its naive little heart, really attempts to convince you they are. You're told by all the usual suspects (Thurston Moore, John Waters, and Jim Jarmusch seem to be contractually obligated to appear in EVERY film on the period to echo the same soundbites) over and over about how innovative and brave these films were. And you're not told much else as the documentary flits past this clip or that. Yes, there are the requisite anecdotes about poverty and such, but we've heard them all before in SO many other films. The result is a sort of congealed DVD commentary over films most people, frankly, won't be that curious about. You get the sense the documentary is trying to convince itself of its own purpose, of its own need-- "SEE! LOOK HOW GROUNDBREAKING ALL OF THIS IS!" Yes, many of the No Wave films are worth a look for any cinephile. But BLANK CITY is disingenuous (or perhaps just undereducated) in pitching that those filmmakers broke any more ground by DIY-ing it to make their rebel images than Jack Smith did 20 years before or even Hans Richter did 40 years before that. The director seemed a bit disingenuous as well when, in presenting the film at the EIFF last week, she said that she felt she was working in the same manner and tradition because she had only "one...or maybe two credit cards to work with." I pitied her completely missing the point of the movement she was documenting. And the film suffers very much for it, for all of its sheen and optimism. BLANK CITY, in attempting to exploit the underground to a larger audience, finds its teeth surrendered, pieced together as little more than the run-of-the-mill historical survey of talking heads and animated titles and pictures that you might find on MTV or VH1. It learned nothing from the films it studies in way of originality or outrage. It's...polite. And it's guilty, in its stubborn propagandizing, of glossing over the reality of what befell these filmmakers. Most gave up. Some sold out (Amos Poe and his desperately and embarrassingly commercial outings of the 80's come to mind). Some like Kern, became pornographers of still-pubescent girls. Jarmusch made it and generally because he abandoned the methods so endorsed in BLANK CITY. But by and large, the pantheon gathered here is not of cinematic Gods, but wretches and failures and outcasts. And THAT is what is so glorious and fascinating about that underground movement of that period. THAT is what might have yielded an honest and far more compelling documentary on its subjects, á la Errol Morris, far more so than pleading on their behalf for their acceptance. THAT is what might have been keeping in spirit with the No Wave. I give the film 3 stars for its technical proficiency and because there are some expected choice insights from John Waters and Steve Buscemi, in particular. If you're not one of the very few fans of that movement, you'll probably be bored by the documentary's constant advertising of it. If you are, though, it's worth catching it at a festival if only to see some of those clips on the big screen. I don't imagine it will be shown elsewhere; it's nearly two years old and still undistributed (a result, I suspect, of the uber-niche audience it would draw commercially, if any, and of the extensive use of clips and music which I imagine must be very expensive to deliver).
Unlike other reviewers here I went into this film at a film festival knowing (due to the trailer available online) that this was a documentation of No Wave cinema, a subject about which I knew little, and now know some. While not claiming that the films themselves were anything other than creations of people who felt that their city was collapsing around them, Blank City is more interested in collecting the (far more interesting) stories behind the creation of the films and the nature of the filmmakers environment. While there are some familiar faces, the true stars are relative unknowns, those who risked all they had to make spontaneous no-budget films of a fascinating time in a fascinating city. I highly recommend this as a quick trip through an utterly mesmerizing time and am eternally grateful that these film-clips have a chance to be seen, the music heard and these remarkably lucky and brave people have their (often hilarious and sometimes moving) stories told.
I was really intrigued by this film and found myself very satisfied with the content and execution. Considering the amount of emphasis placed on the rise of independent film and the fall of the studio system, the amount of time talking about the following generation pales in comparison. Independent film never disappeared, it just became briefly overshadowed by larger block-buster films like The Godfather, Jaws, Star Wars. Granted, these are all enjoyable films, but it's refreshing to see a glimpse into the lives of the independent filmmakers of the 1970's. It's sort of a testament to the idea that these now-pivotal figures didn't necessarily struggle through obscurity as much they reveled in it, instead embracing an anarchistic style of creativity that really came to define them and make them such poignant artists.
I really liked how this movie reminds us of a time when New York was more dangerous and dirty. If you really like Sonic Youth and other angular music, then you should see this as a refresher course. The film also touches upon how AIDS claimed the lives of some of the people mentioned. I would recommend another film about the Grammercy Park Hotel, which also touches on this period before Reagan. Maybe something had to do with Andy Warhol being alive at the time? This was also an era when there was at least some artistic creativity which didn't pander to mainstream America. Yes, it's true that Richard Kern took erotic photos of young girls, but they have an edgy artistic quality which today still seem a little dangerous. It's hard to believe the girls now are in their late 40's early 50's(or maybe AIDS victims).
As far as the quality of this film, it's very well made. Great
interviews with a myriad of directors and actors make for an
interesting watch on a lazy weekend day. As far as the content
If your not familiar with this genre of film-making, it won't take you long to figure out these filmmakers were the equivalent of the music Punk Rock pioneers of the day...although...not near as relevant or successful.
The main goal of this documentary is show fans how/when/where this style/genre of film making started. You get to find out why these individuals started making films the way they did. They were odd, gory, abstract and stuff you wouldn't normally watch...but hey, it was the 70's and we know what a bizzaro decade that was. So this was the excuse to shock and awe the audience by putting these pointless exercises on celluloid.
The main interest for me was the interviews with Jim Jarmusch and Steve Buscemi. Yeah it's the Steve Buschemi we all know and love. He was in one of the early one of these films...it was where he started his acting career. Out of the whole assortment of Directors they talk to and mention Jim Jarmusch is the only one, to this day, who gets mentioned in film circles as a really good film maker. Why? simple...because even though his films are still kind of odd, they are watchable. They have a goal at the end of each one. They're not meandering collages of part shock and art film with no point. They aren't just moving images...they're actual stories.
It was funny to sit and listen to some of these directors sit and talk about how great their stuff was and I can guarantee that 99% of the film viewing world hasn't even heard of these people. This is one of these cases where it's in New York so it's important and has meaning and it sets a trend. Well, problem is...it didn't. These were just poor broke people who ran around with 8mm cameras trying to fit into a scene in NY at the time and now they can sit back and talk about their triumph...or their perceived triumph.
I saw this movie in NYC at the IFC. I loved its approach, the way NYC is depicts, it is a raw and truthful documentary. I would advise any NYC lover to go see it. It helps you understand the city and its artistic influence better. It makes you really realize the energy that is lying and present in NYC. At the end of the documentary you manage to get introduced to an artistic movement but it also inspires you. You realize that you can make it, as long as you have passion a hint of madness and you are willing to work hard. I was also so impressed by the team behind the movie and i really hope to see them more on screen. To sum up, i love this documentary because i was introduce and i understood a new subject that i knew nothing about and it inspired me, it lift my spirit up.
Actually it seems, that you don't have to, but I think you should.
Again this is a documentary that has a specific target audience and
most people who are not into independent movies (or the wave of them
coming out of America a few decades ago) won't like it. As you can see
in some of the other comments on this title.
I respect their comments and their views. I still have to disagree with one of them, which goes a bit too far and does imply something, that the movie does not do or try to do. This movie is not glorifying the filmmakers from that time. Quite the contrary, sometimes they are shown as complete lunatics. But that is the appeal of the movie. It does show you people as they are, without judging them. The judging comes from within the viewer.
And while I have to admit not being a big fan (and also not knowing many) of the movies, I really did enjoy the movie. I liked the way it was shot and I liked the interviews. The pacing was great and the shots were interesting. And that was all before the lovely director came on stage and talked a bit about the movie. Unfortunately I had to leave and didn't have a chance to talk to her. But I hope to see more of the team behind this (her "partners in crime" were there too).
When this was at Edinburg, this is what they said: Today, Manhattan is
a byword for overpriced property, overexposed landmarks and overdressed
fashionistas. In the late 70s, however, it was rat-infested, crime-
crippled, cheap and nasty - somewhere for America to dump its
immigrants, poor people and artists. Music, art, fashion and filmmaking
burgeoned, fueled by drugs, dares, fads, feuds, and a fair helping of
LIttle of this is true. NYC has always been about fashion and high prices. Just look at New Yorker Magazine from 1923!!
The movie is sort of boring. Let's be honest, these filmmakers are not very good. And there is little new in this documentary that hasn't been covered a gazillion times before.
And how many times can you listen to some now rich idiot say "there wasy no money" "we did it for no money" "we didn't have any money."
Who does when your 18? What a borefest
Blank City is about the underground New York City film-makers who
sprang up in the post-punk years. The films that were made were
amateurish and technically raw; they were made with next to no money
and they featured for the most part non-actors; their subject matter
was often shocking and confrontational. Without doubt, the punk spirit
was very much alive in these movies. It was known as the No Wave
I saw this at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and I'm going to be upfront here and admit that I was under the impression from the EIFF brochure that this was going to be about something else. It sounded like it was going to cover the post-punk scene in the grimy streets of NYC circa 1980. But really, this documentary is more or less only about these underground films and filmmakers. While many of the participants are fascinating and some of the films seem odd and of-their-time enough to be of interest, I just felt that for my tastes the material was stretched out to breaking point. I was hoping that the music scene would be given some exposure too, to compliment proceedings but that just didn't happen. Having said that, having heard some Lydia Lunch recordings in the past this may not have been strictly a bad thing. I guess I was essentially hoping for NYC post-punk music to be covered more generally, rather than specifically the No Wave movement, of which I am not keen on at all. At least in the 60's the art films of Andy Warhol had The Velvet Underground to soundtrack them.
It's certainly interesting in places and occasionally funny. But it does get a bit wearing after a time. This would most probably have made a much better short film; it doesn't in truth really justify its feature length as there just isn't enough development in content or trajectory. It's an admirable effort but sadly it just wasn't for me.
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