DVD Review: Blank City

Blank City DVDSTUDIO: Kino Lorber | DIRECTOR: Celine Danhier
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 2/21/2012 | PRICE: DVD $29.95, Blu-ray $34.95
BONUSES: deleted and extended interviews, outtakes, director interview
SPECS: NR | 95 min. | Documentary | 1.85:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1 | English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall

 

French filmmaker Céline Danhier’s 2011 feature-length documentary Blank City takes a respectably comprehensive look at the low-budget No Wave cinema movement created by DIY filmmakers that emerged from New York City’s Lower East Side in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Blank City movie scene

New York's colorful "No Wave" cinema movement is explored in Blank City.

The first half of the well-researched film offers a general overview of the beginnings and decade-long life of the movement, a rough, nihilistic form of cinema—much of it shot on Super-8 and then 16mm film–that embraced the same rough, street-ugly style as the punk rock cycle that was sweeping the area at the time. Interview segments with such key filmmakers as Richard Kern, Charlie Ahearn, Jack Sargeant, Nick Zedd, Beth B and Scott B, and Amos Poe are interspersed with clips from their films and archival footage of the drug-addled, run-down and dangerous streets, buildings and inhabitants of the Lower East Side. In the case of the No Wave, as Danhier’s film clearly illustrates, the subject matter, performers, filmmakers and settings play out as if they’re all essentially one in the same. Performers Debbie Harry, Thurston Moore and Steve Buscemi (TV’s Boardwalk Empire) and filmmakers John Waters and Jim Jarmusch, all of whom got their start on the scene but went on to notably more mainstream careers, are also on hand to comment on a movement and a time in New York that has long since vanished.

The latter part of the film focuses more on specific filmmakers—Kern, Zedd, Poe and so on–and their works. Performer/poet/actress Lydia Lunch, a poster girl of the era of sorts who appeared in a number of films, inhabits a large swath of the spotlight here. At one point, she offers a priceless, take-no-prisoners summary of the 1983 film The Wild World Lydia Lunch, wherein the director, her then-boyfriend Nick Zedd, films her traipsing around London as narration from a break-up cassette tape she made for him plays in the background.

Zedd is also one of the more memorable talking heads of the group, his deadpan deliver adding nihilistic punch to his anecdotes of when he had to deal with airport security officers and angry festival audiences. A quick look at the titles of some of his films—Go To Hell, They Eat Scum, Why Do You Exist and War Is Menstrual Envy—gives one a good idea of Zedd’s general cinematic thrust.

The supplemental materials are led by a 10-minute interview with director Danhier, who discusses how she tracked down the film’s various talking heads and archival clips and what she thinks of the films that make up the movement.

Also included are some 40 minutes of extended and alternate interviews and outtakes featuring a number of the film’s colorful commentators, including Zedd, who notes a cockroach crawling across the floor. Lunch also grabs more attention with her response to the sweetly accented Danhier’s request for any additional funny stories: “Do I have any funny stories? I’ll give you a funny fucking story,” Lunch bellows (with a sense of humor, I think).

“She’s got a lot of fucking balls for a chick—I’m glad you’ve got your legs crossed,” she adds, with a snarl.

 

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.