Draw­ing blank a

Fas­ci­nated by New York ‘No Wave’ art, French lawyer-turned film-maker Cé­line Danhier has made a doc­u­men­tary that echoes its DIY ethos, writes Tara Brady

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

HOW DO YOU make a movie about New York’s fiercely DIY, down-and-dirty school of No Wave art? By ad­her­ing to a fiercely DIY, down-and-dirty No Wave method­ol­ogy, of course. Just ask ac­claimed, Nantes-born doc­u­men­tary di­rec­tor Cé­line Danhier.

“The No Wave phi­los­o­phy was ‘go make a record, go make a movie, go make some­thing’,” says the film­maker. “The fact that I am here with my movie shows that this is still pos­si­ble.” Six years ago, Danhier grad­u­ated from the Sor­bonne with a law de­gree only to dis­cover that “of­fice life at a law firm was not for me – but it was a good train­ing for work­ing with sto­ries”.

Liv­ing in Paris, she turned to the arts as a mem­ber of the avant-garde theatre group La Com­pag­nie Vapeur and as an ex­per­i­men­tal short film­maker. A chance viewing of James Nares’s Rome ’78 – screened as part of a ret­ro­spec­tive of No Wave films at the Cen­tre Pom­pi­dou – changed ev­ery­thing for the bud­ding artist.

“When I was liv­ing in Paris I was lis­ten­ing to a lot of No Wave mu­sic like the Con­tor­tions and Lizzy Mercier Descloux,” she ex­plains. “But I did not know that this la­bel ex­isted in cinema as well. When I saw some of the films at the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art in Paris I was amazed that so many of the peo­ple I was lis­ten­ing to at home – like Ly­dia Lunch and James Chance – were in these movies. And I was amazed by how crazy and free the films were. And I im­me­di­ately

set about try­ing to track down the peo­ple who made them.” Within months, Danhier dis­cov­ered that she could only get so far from her Parisian base. She soon re­lo­cated to New York, de­ter­mined to chron­i­cle the lost gen­er­a­tion of Blank movie pioneers, in­clud­ing Amos Poe, Bette Gor­don, Patti As­tor, Nick Zedd, Vivi­enne Dick and Jim Jar­musch. In keep­ing with the orig­i­nal No Wave spirit, she had no for­mal train­ing, one maxed-out Amer­i­can Ex­press card and “not great English”.

“I had to go to New York to com­plete the project,” says Danhier. “I met Aviva Wish­now (pro­ducer) and Vanessa Roworth (ed­i­tor) soon af­ter I got there and we started work­ing on a doc­u­men­tary in the style of Legs Mcneil’s book Please Kill Me. We wanted to let the story un­fold through the in­ter­views and anec­dotes, in the words of the peo­ple who lived it. And that was our Blank City.” All told, Danhier spent four years viewing ex­per­i­men­tal pe­riod films and chas­ing down the ar­chi­tects of the No Wave aes­thetic.“at the be­gin­ning I had a naive pro­posal and a list of peo­ple I would like to have in the film,” she laughs.

“And it was lucky I was naive be­cause I do not think it could have hap­pened if I had known what I was do­ing. But once we started to meet peo­ple it snow­balled. News trav­elled. Ev­ery­one I in­ter­viewed al­ways seemed to have the con­tact in­for­ma­tion of an­other artist I was look­ing for. Peo­ple were very help­ful.

“I wasn’t per­son­ally fa­mil­iar with any­one from that gen­er­a­tion. I was younger. I was French. And I was very, very pushy. If some­one said ‘no’, I al­ways asked if it was be­cause they were busy. Be­cause I could clear my sched­ule and wait.”

The sound­track of the Blank Gen­er­a­tion who in­hab­ited the crum­bling blocks of NYC’S Lower East Side dur­ing the late 1970s and early 1980s has formed the spine of any know­ing mu­sic col­lec­tion for al­most three decades. The films, how­ever, are less well known. Blank City, in ad­di­tion to trac­ing a more fa­mil­iar tra­jec­tory be­tween Blondie and Teenage Je­sus and the Jerks, un­earths the grainy, point­edly crass vi­su­als of Richard Kern, Cas­san­dra Stark Mele, Eric Mitchell, Scott B and Beth B.

“I was so cu­ri­ous about the films,” says Danhier. “They were so raw, so wild. New York was such a dif­fer­ent place then. It was run down and al­most bank­rupt. But be­cause there was no eco­nomic sup­port there were no eco­nomic re­stric­tions.” Did spend­ing all that time in the archives make her sorry she missed out on the poorer, freer East Vil­lage of yore? “Well, be­cause I missed it I am not

‘We wanted to let the story un­fold through the in­ter­views and anec­dotes, in the words of the peo­ple who lived it’: Clock­wise from top: No Wave ’78; Klaus Nom, Chris Parker and Jim Jar­musch; Mark Boone Ju­nior and Steve Buscemi in Eric Mitchell’s film and Deb­bie Harry

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