The Blank Generation
Directed by Amos Poe and Ivan Kral
Friday, February 3 and Sunday, Feruary 5 at Anthology Film Archives‘s Poe miniseries
Guitarist Kral and filmmaker Poe, two of the many Eastern Europe-derived transplants who shaped the East Village’s bohemian heyday, collaborated on Blank Generation, which is essentially a home movie from the CBGBs and Max’s Kansas City crowd. The bulk of the film, and the obvious and enduring draw, is the performance footage, but there’s also sketched-out street vignettes and rehearsal-space mugging (say, by Debbie Harry in leather pants, surrounded by her identically attired, posing harem of bandmates).
Even the performances feel like outtakes, as future icons try on their personalities (and bowler hats, in Patti Smith’s case; “Gloria” starts the film, as it has to, and she like a shaggy post-Thunders David Johansen is observed from comparatively far off, at gallery openings, or thumbing a book onstage. We zoom in on the Ramones’ tight jeans; Wayne (now Jayne) County, in trash-knotted wig, teases an ecstatically in-on-the-gag audience member with a toilet plunger during “Rock and Roll Enema”; Richard Hell, still in the Heartbreakers at time of filmking, looks strung-out, pretty and French.
The film’s end-title freeze-frames play at history-making, tipping everyone’s ambition even at this stage, but there’s youthful team spirit in the egalitarian equal time given to poppier, hippier, proggier and rootsier also-rans, like Tuff Darts (all post-Iggy attitude), The Shirts (a thoughtful messy ensemble on- and backstage), and Marbles, who have their name on their drum and stage a Mack Sennett melee in someone’s apartment.
No attempt is made to sync the raw performance footage to the soundtrack (which often features pre-album recordings), so the young revolutionaries, especially a closed-off Tom Verlaine and a colossally dorky David Byrne in buttoned-up polo, all look so focused, invested in the production of some other, mysterious sound.