Some clips look like Godard, like De Sica. Some look like bad home movies, others like art-school kids had grabbed a Super 8, turned it on, and stumbled down the stairs. Vincent Gallo shows up in a few reels, Basquiat is there, Deborah Harry, Patti Smith, Steve Buscemi (still working as a fireman), Lydia Lunch.
From the mid-1970s into the early '80s, when New York was smeared in graffiti and crime, and a gaggle of musicians, writers, painters, and, yes, filmmakers holed up in Lower East Side tenements, what came to be called No Wave cinema was born.
Céline Danhier's Blank City offers a thorough, thoroughly engaging look back at this wildly creative moment, and movement, when Amos Poe and Jim Jarmusch, Scott and Beth B, Susan Seidelman and James Nares began experimenting with 8mm and 16mm cameras, putting their friends in front of the lens and making movies that captured the good times and bad, the love and the drugs, the wild despair, the sex, the fever and fervor.
With funny, trenchant anecdotes from the likes of Jarmusch (perched on a red couch, waxing nostalgic and wise), from directors Poe, Michael Oblowitz, and John Waters, from musicians John Lurie and James Chance (as intense as ever), the actress and performance artist Ann Magnuson, and hip-hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy, Blank City rambles through the years when Ford and Reagan were presidents - and when you could take to the streets without permits or walkie-talkie-squawking crews and just shoot, shoot, shoot.
Danhier digs up old posters, fliers and archival photos, and her talking heads dig through their respective and collective memories. But the real reason to see Blank City is to catch snatches of the now-decades-old films - priceless DIY numbers that capture all the wild energy, humor, and rage of, if not a more innocent time, then certainly a cooler one.