When grime was good
‘IT FELT LIKE our lives were movies,” says Debbie Harry of the early filthy days of No Wave. The surviving gang’s all here for this’s marvelous documentary history of the marauding bands of poets, punks and film-makers who descended upon New York’s East Village in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
And they’ve brought their home movies. Between interviews, Blank City forms an archive for the Blank Generation’s many 8mm and 16mm films. Inspired by Warhol and Cassavetes, everyone was shooting around the meaner streets of NY’S less salubrious alphabet postal codes. “Technique was hated,” recalls John Lurie. “Musicians were painting, painters were making music and films.”
In this garret-fabulous world, prog rock was dead and the studio system was subject to erosion: “Getting a 16mm film into New York theatres”, concurs director Jim Jarmusch, was as “easy as scoring heroin.”
Director Céline Danhier refrains from editorialising and labeling, so viewers will just have to giddily freewheel through an assortment that brings together Basquiat’s art, Lizzie Borden’s sci-fe-minism, Television, The Ramones, Steve Buscemi and Nick Zedd’s Cinema of Trangression.
Happily, veterans are on hand to provide the context – “We came out of this destruction, this very empty city,” says Thurston Moore – and outline the significance. “No one was holding back,” says Lydia Lunch. “They were telling the ugly, naked truth as they lived it. That’s why the Cinema of Transgression and No Wave had this power.”
Blank City is the lovely, loud dissonant film they deserve.