"Blank City" captures spirit of No Wave film
They wanted to make films that were shorter, punchier, more in your face. Films that shouted, "I am here."
While No Wave bands rocked the clubs in Downtown Manhattan at the end of the '70s and dawn of the '80s, their members and friends and fans were taking the same wide-open-minded approach to film.
The story of that revolutionary underground film scene that helped sprout the careers of Richard Kern, Jim Jarmusch, John Waters, Susan Seidelman, Vincent Gallo, John Lurie, Ann Magnuson and Steve Buscemi, among others, is fodder for "Blank City."
The 94-minute documentary, directed by Celine Danhier, screens for free at UWM's Union Theatre, Thursday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m.
Although the film is a pretty conventional look at an anything but conventional period in American film and music and art, the subject matter itself is so provocative that it barely matters that "Blank City" uses a simply, "interview-footage-interview-footage" approach.
The clips are so varied and so interesting that you want to see more. And hearing the stories that Jarmusch and the others tell about their bands, their friends – like struggling artist Jean-Michel Basquiat – and what the Lower East Side was like in those days is fascinating. We're reminded that there was a time in the not-so-distant past when large swaths of the city were still littered with rubble and vacant lots.
These filmmakers say they weren't trying to make art films. They wanted to make movies with action, movies that told a story. Because those were the kinds of films people wanted to watch.
And when they screened their work at the New Cinema on St. Mark's Place, people did come. Sometimes hundreds and hundreds of people came. Wall Street was making money and art galleries were thriving.
Suddenly people like Basquiat were rich. And some of the No Wave filmmakers were making headway, too, outside the scene. Films like "Wild Style," "Stranger Than Paradise" and "Smithereens" ignited careers.
Lurie tells of how success and money changed Basquiat and some others interviewed in the film readily admit that success made them shed their values.
What's perhaps most interesting about the film is the way that we see in all the clips that New York is the star. And as "Rome 78" director James Nares admits, "The movies were somehow always about New York, even when they were about ancient Rome."
Also screening this weekend at UWM is Jean-Luc Godard's 2010 "Film Socialisme," the legendary director's first full feature on video. It screens Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 5 and 9 p.m. and Sunday at 3 and 7:15 p.m.
Admission is $6, $4 for UWM students and $5 for UWM faculty, staff and alumni association members.
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