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Blank City: Denver Film Festival Review

What astounds me about the late-70s lower east side New York punk scene - and what Blank City portrays so well - is how so many phenomenal, outlandish, borderline insane personalities managed to all find themselves at the same place at the same time, and pushed each other to be even wilder, even crazier, more vagrant, more dangerous. I wouldn't say I want to be them, but those crazy kids really had something going. We all know about the Ramones, Blondie, and the Talking Heads. Many are even hip to Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Television, and the Dead Boys. But after the first wave of NYC punk broke big, another group of bands took up the mantle. Under monikers like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, The Contortions, and DNA, these were the no wavers, nihilistic noise machines who were so punk they never had a chance with the mainstream, nor did they want one. No wave was not just about music, though. Musicians, painters, moviemakers, you name it, they did it all. Basquiat came out of this crew. So did Jim Jarmusch, Steve Buscemi, and Vincent Gallo. So did Thurston Moore and Sonic Youth. These guys saw the dawn of the Reagan era and hip-hop - oh yeah, they were involved with producing Wild Style, too. This is just as astonishing a period of time as mid-70s punk, and Blank City's focus on the movies these people made with stolen and scammed equipment, no budget, no clue how to make a movie, and a fuck-all attitude brings the scene to life viscerally perhaps even better than the oral history classic Please Kill Me.

Like the illuminating Aussiesploitation doc Not Quite Hollywood, Blank City opens a window to a new, provocative, previously under-the-radar film movement. Unlike Not Quite Hollywood, this is a strikingly compelling documentary about the lives of people I don’t envy making movies most of which I have no interest in seeing. Okay, okay, Jarmusch is great and The Foreigner and Born in Flames both look like they're worth a watch. But I get the impression there were less movies like that and more like the short where Lydia Lunch walks around in London for a half hour doing nothing with voice over audio of her breaking up with her boyfriend. What is compelling about Blank City is not the quality of product produced, but that this group of good for nothings were all together at the right place at the right time, and somehow (by somehow, I mean by using speed) managed to muster the energy to make movies and music and art nonstop, with little regard for convention, success, hygiene, or health. Our generation could only dream of that level of madness and mental instability, uh, I mean dedication.

So far, Blank City is one of the standout movies of the Starz Denver Film Festival.

-Ben

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