Blank City (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
February 26, 2012 by Dennis Amith
“Blank City” is a intriguing, gritty and enjoyable documentary by Celine Danhier and for anyone that is interested in learning about one of the most rebellious times in American music and independent film history. Specifically those from NYC in the ’70s and ’80s that were involved in the creation and the popularity of the No Wave movement. Recommended!
TITLE: Blank City
FILM RELEASE: 2010
DURATION: 95 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
COMPANY: Insurgent Media/Kino Lorber
RATED: Not Rated
Release Date: February 21, 2012
Directed by Celine Danhier
Executive Producer: Dan Braun, Josh Braun, Andrew S. Karsch, Fisher Stevens
Producer:Vanessa Roworth, Aviva Wishnow
Co-Producer: April R. Loutrel, Sabine Rogers, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani
Cinematography by Ryo Murakami, Peter Szollosi
Edited by Vanessa Roworth
Fab 5 Freddy
Manuel De Landa
Tracing the underground scene from its origins with the New American Cinema of filmmakers like Jack Smith and Jonas Mekas in the early 1960s, through the “No Wave Cinema” and the “Cinema of Transgression” movements, Blank City shows how the music, film and art informed each other’s work. These films were largely DIY affairs, shot on shoestring budgets, that were profoundly influential on the development of independent film as we know it today.
New York City… back in the 1970’s, the Big Apple was nothing like it is today.
A city on the verge of bankruptcy, crime, drugs and prostitution was all over the city and many tried to survive with what they had. And for a group of visual artists that lived in run down apartments in New York’s East Village is where a group of cutting edge artists, filmmakers, musician and performers lived with very little income.
They would borrow each other’s film equipment (pretty much borrowing each other’s cheap Super 8 cameras), taking part in each other’s films and performing a musical gig at a nearby club, despite many but of them living in an area which was seen as a drug-infested wasteland, it’s an area where the next surge of independent film and music would catch the attention of audiences all over the world. A group of individuals who would be known as part of the “No Wave” (a satirical word play which rejected the commercial elements of the commercial “New Wave” genre).
From acclaimed directors such as Jim Jarmusch, John Waters and Susan Siedelman, actor-writer-director Steve Buscemi, Blondie’s Debbie Harry, hip hop artist Fab 5 Freddy, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth and where many other talent of the time would thrive and do things their own way.
And for French filmmaker Celine Danhier, while familiar with the music of No Wave, the more she began to research the music, she learned of the underground film scene that took place in Tribeca and the East Village, films that were created by people such as Amos Poe, Eric Mitchell, James Nares, Jim Jarmusch, Vivienne Dick, Scott B and Beth B, Seth Tillet and films that would be the precursor to the underground film movement in the early to mid ’80s known as “The Cinema of Transgression” (coined by Nick Zedd).
A movement that would consist of a group of like-minded artists using shock value and humor in their work. And because a lot of these people lived with each other, they would star in each other’s films, borrow each other’s super 8 mm cameras and create their own low budget films, their own artwork and their own music.
Danhier revisits these talented individuals who helped and were responsible for igniting the movement, what took place behind-the-scenes and draw attention to these independent films, some that have been forgotten.
Featuring interviews with these individuals today plus showing archived footage of their films, their live shows and artwork and more!
“Blank City” is presented in 1080p High Definition but it’s important for people to know that this is a documentary which features modern and past footage. Footage from a variety of sources and features older archives, so picture quality varies throughout the entire film. As the film showcases the turbulent times of New York during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, you have a mixture of Super 8 mm footage that people shot their indie films with and with modern footage shot digitally.
So, as one can expect from a documentary with various footage, from the past and present, overall picture quality is good, modern interviews are much better.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Blank City” is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and the film is a documentary that is primarily front and center channel-driven. And similar to the video, you have a variety of audio sources that this film incorporates. . Past and modern audio footage, audio quality also varies throughout the entire film. Dialogue is clear and understandable during the modern interviews, but anything from the past is good, but not great.
“Blank City” comes with the following special features:
- Celine Danhier Interview – (6:23) Shot by Ryo Murakami, “Blank City” director Celine Danhier talks about how and why she made the film.
- Deleted/Extended Scenes – (40:46) Extended scenes and interviews that didn’t make it into the final cut of “Blank City” and are actually very in-depth and enjoyable to watch. I’m sure it must have been difficult for Celine Danhier to cut these scenes for pacing and lowering the duration time, because they are very good and informative.
- Outtakes – (4:09) Outtakes from the recent interviews.
- Trailer – (2:18) The theatrical trailer for “Blank City”.
For those who love Jim Jarmusch, Amos Poe or Vivienne Dick’s independent low-budget film work… For those who grew up and enjoyed Blondie, when the new wave group teamed up with early hip hop leader Fab 5 Freddy to create one of the first commercially successful rap songs with the 1981 hit “Rapture”… Or those who went crazy for Patti Smith and punk music of the late ’70s, a lot of these individuals got their start during the turbulent ’70s in New York City.
This was a time where New York City was feeling the brunt of national scrutiny because it was seen as this hellish wasteland with nothing but poverty, drugs and nothing but negative news.
But yet, it was considered home by many people. And for these young artists, this is how they lived and survived. Living in the cheapest apartments possible, attending parties and music events together but also providing music for each other’s movies or starring in their film, this was a community collaboration of individuals just trying to survive, yet pursue their passion with the lowest budget possible.
A lot of these individuals were fueled by their passion of music, film and art but also with heavy drug use and wanting to make a statement towards society, literally with a middle finger pointing up and saying to the world, this is where I live and I can give a shit of what you think about us!
For me, personally, as a cinema fan, it’s one thing to appreciate what John Cassavetes was able to accomplish back in the late 1950’s to the sixties for independent films, but to see this antagonistic, nihilistic, pessimistic look at society and to document it in a film or music video, it’s what these individuals enjoyed doing. It’s their way to communicate to a world that lives differently than they did.
“Blank City” is a fantastic documentary that delves deeply into that experience that these individuals were part of and giving a first-perspective look at the lives they lived. These were difficult times, a lot of these talents that starred in these films, were broke and just trying to survive.
Watch Jim Jarmusch’s “Stranger Than Paradise” and John Lurie talks about how he was broke and couldn’t pay his bills when he did that film. A lot of the talent featured would talk about how they didn’t have much at the time, thus they depended on their friendships with others from the same building to collaborate on film, music and art.
What about the graffiti art of the ’80s and the slow popularity of hip hop? You have to give Fab 5 Freddy and Patti Astor some acknowledgement as Astor’s “FUN Gallery” helped promote the graffiti art at the time and not show them as criminals but true artists. It was also a place where different worlds would unite and would mix people from the neighborhood with major names in the art world.
What about the punk and New Wave scene? CBGB was the place to be during the late ’70s and would be the location where bands such as the Ramones, Misfits, the Patti Smith Group, The Cramps, Blondie, Talking Heads and others would perform.
Needless to say, there were a lot of filmmakers, actors/actresses, bands, music artists, artists, etc. that came from New York City and took advantage of the movement, no matter how dark or crazy it was at the time. Many of these individuals lived it and with “Blank City”, filmmaker Celine Danhier gives them a chance to talk about it, in their own words and give us that journey back to that era in time and for some to relive some of those moments, to expose us to their work and for many others to learn from it.
While “Blank City” and the No Wave movement may be subjective to the viewer, for me, just to see and learn of the creativity generated from the crazy times of New York City circa 1975-1985 is pretty awesome! And while I was familiar with some of the well-known names such as Patti Smith, Debbie Harry, Fab 5 Freddy, Sonic Youth, John Waters, etc., this documentary also opened my eyes to other filmmakers and music artists that I have never heard about and now, has made me quite interested and trying to search for their past work.
“Blank City” is an intriguing, gritty and yet, enjoyable documentary by Celine Danhier and for anyone who is interested in learning about one of the most rebellious times in American history, through those from NYC involved in the creation and the popularity of the No Wave movement.
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