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Short Takes: Blank City

By Chris Chang

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(Celine Danhier, U.S., 2010)

Blank City

No Wave, the deformed love child of Jack Smith and Andy Warhol, was an aesthetic movement whose output was perhaps best understood conceptually—rather than actually seen or heard. The music and films that emerged—including the work of Tommy Turner (a personal favorite), Nick Zedd, DNA, Teenage Jesus and Jerks, Lung Leg, Amos Poe, Vivienne Dick, Eric Mitchell, Bette Gordon, the Contortions, et al.—remain to this day anarchic, artless (at times deliberately), and often unnerving. To dip into and/or wallow in any sampling of this fetid stuff is to revisit a land that time forgot, a mid-Eighties miasma of noise and nihilism that has long since been gentrified out of existence.

Leave it to a French director—a Sorbonne graduate, with a master’s degree in law, no less—to produce a terrific documentary about a 30-year-old Lower Manhattan micro-niche. Blank City mixes present-day interviews (with patron saints Jim Jarmusch, John Waters, Lydia Lunch, and many other survivors) with a liberal sampling of “period” imagery, including clips from actual No Wave films (e.g., Where Evil Dwells, Rome ’78, Black Box), supplemented with documentary detritus, such as found footage from the seedy streets and claustrophobic nightclubs, and montage sequences of photos, posters, and fanzines. And then, all of a sudden, the party was over. John Lurie blames the genre’s demise on Jean-Michel Basquiat—who used his actual talent to start making money. Traitor!

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