Blank City (2010)
Genre – Documentary
Director – Celine Danhier
Running Time – 94 mins
Cast – Amos Poe, Beth B, Steve Buschemi,
Richard Kern, Nick Zedd.
Youngsters are all too keen on hitting ‘snooze’ as soon as they hear ‘documentary’ Rest assured this is not of the breed, of shaky video footage on dismally obscure subjects accompanied by bored monotonous voices in the background that drone on endlessly. Blank City, directed by Frenchwoman Celine Danhier is a 90-some odd minute documentary shifting some much needed spotlight on the attention-starved underground film scene gaining base in Manhattan in the 70s.Centred around crime-addled Manhattan pre-gentrification and before the Reagan era, it traces the rise and fall of what is now called “No Wave Cinema”. Although this movement grew alongside the Punk Music Movement, it never quite achieved recognition at par. Nick Zedd, a leading name in the “No Wave” scheme of things coined the term “Cinema of Transgression” in 1985 to describe these films being made by contemporary artists Richard Kern, Tessa Hughes Freeland, Lydia Lunch etc who made use of black humour & shock value to offend the status quo. Zedd, under a pseudonym, authored the Underground Film Bulletin in an attempt to publicize these films. He also published a manifesto- Cinema of Transgression Manifesto, to express the agenda of these abstract films more clearly. What makes viewing this documentary a rare pleasure for the viewers, is the amount of previously unreleased footage it contains of creative moguls of the time like Patti Smith, Andy Warhol, Nick Zedd, Beth B etc.Steve Buschemi ( of ‘The Big Lebowski’, ‘Pulp Fiction’ fame) relives nostalgia as he recounts how he started out his film career working as an actor in Super-8 films, so called because they were shot entirely using handheld 8mm-width lens cameras. The documentary encompasses movies like- “Thrust in Me” (1984), “They Eat Scum” (1979),
Manhattan Love Suicides” (1985), “Why Do You Exist” (1998) among a host of others, discussing in stages, the origin, conception and reception of the idea that went into the making of these films. The soundtrack is a miscellaneous of Sonic Youth and other old school punk outfits. With the resurgence of DIY, thanks to the Internet, this creative endeavour is not likely to alienate the audience. Having premiered at Berlin and featured on the official selection lists of Tribeca, Viennale, and Milano as well as countless other film festivals, this documentary is as equally informative as it is entertaining.
To read the “Cinema of Transgression Manifesto” and watch “Cinema of Transgression” videos, head over to www.ubu.com/film/transgression.html