Blank City: Indie Film Before the Term Existed

Blank City is a self-defeating, user-friendly primer on a group of films whose aura was enhanced by the fact that one had to brave scenester gatekeepers to find them. A loose history of underground movies from the hybridized gallery-art/loft-rock/filmmaking scene that coalesced in downtown NYC in the ’70s and early ’80s, in punk’s aftermath, Céline Danhier’s chronology begins with Amos Poe’s 1976 Unmade Beds (playing Mon.–Tues. during NWFF’s New York Noise retrospective; see the Wire, page 21) and ends with the rise of MTV, real estate, Wall Street, AIDS, or whatever other external factor is to take the blame for the dry-up. Along the way are glimpses of the CBGB-era films of Poe, Eric Mitchell, and James Nares, and the ’80s’ “Cinema of Transgression,” which encompasses the work of Nick Zedd, Richard Kern, and David Wojnarowicz. Nothing in this assemblage of clips will convince anyone not already sold on the enduring artistic importance of these movements beyond the world bounded by 14th Street and the Holland Tunnel. Danhier has made a lifestyle-nostalgia oral history after the popular Please Kill Me model, but gets none of the tall tales and internecine grudges that made that tome so entertaining. Nor does she once interrogate a parade of interviewees as they retell the legend of guttered Olde NYC in upmarket contemporary surroundings—a decision that ironically shows lickspittle respect for a scene marked by youthful home rule.