Punks at Play in Abandoned New York

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04/06/2011 4:00 AM |

Blank City

Directed by Céline Danhier

“I felt like our lives were movies,” Debbie Harry says at the outset of Blank City, laying out the parameters—raw NYC charisma, basically—of this hagio-history of independent filmmaking in downtown Manhattan from punk to Giuliani. As scenes go, this one was nothing if not self-documenting, to the point of being a primary goal of the loose, collective, prankish films themselves (Warhol’s influence is acknowledged). Blank City is heavy with clips of the No Wave and Cinema of Transgression at play in the abandoned metropolis, whether dressed up in leather (as in Amos Poe’s punk-inflected New Wave riffs), togas (in Brit transplant James Nares’s classical-education goof Rome ’78), and bondage gear (in Richard Kern’s short videos with Lydia Lunch and others), as, press cuttings from the Voice, East Village Eye and Soho Weekly News fly by.

Tyro director and French transplant Céline Danhier puts music by CBGBs and No New York groups under practically everything, and tracks the very briskly edited interview snippets backwards, forwards and sideways to give little OCD taps to everything from the era that you could possibly care about (the influence of Jack Smith, Jonas Mekas and Burroughs are cited; political and historical junkies get little contextual hits as the influence of Reagan is juxtaposed with the exploding gallery market for street art from Wild Style‘s cast members, in between mentions of the Son of Sam, AIDS and club culture, and drugs and the Tompkins Square Riots). All this may even be true to a time when “the same 500 or 600 people” cross-pollinated—Jarmusch recalls dragging a passed-out Jean-Michel Basquiat just out of frame during Permanent Vacation. There’s a wistful romanticism that pervades the many 16mm clips of artists and “artists” walking alongside burned-out squats and vacant lots—the title’s a riff on Amos Poe’s documentary, “Blank Generation,” title from Richard Hell’s song about the nihilistic glory of an empty canvas. Everyone gives their talking head in nicely appointed middle-aged apartments, and looks gorgeous and badass in the old photos that flicker before the end credits.

Opens April 6