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Where would film be without independent cinema? Before we had the conglomerates that are Warners, Paramount, and Universal, all film was pretty much “do-it-yourself.” Most cinephiles blame big studios for ruining "film" in general and bringing a unnecessary age of “tentpole” franchises and popcorn flicks to the eager masses. A part of me of course scream “Yeah! Screw the system!” But the other part of me says “Oh…..I like Marvel movies and loud action flicks.” Oh well, as they say “the struggle is real.”

Speaking of struggle, this brings me to Blank City a 2010 documentary about the independent “No Wave” film movement in New York in the late 1970s and 80s. Similar to the current “mumblecore” movement, “No Wave” was truly the start of edgy independent fare from the likes of Jim Jarmusch, Nick Zedd, and Richard Kern, amongst many others. While the fad of “do-it-yourself” cinema has largely disappeared, and the struggle has all but gone away, it’s still an interesting time in cinema where we catch our last glimpses of a time in New York that most people would rather forget.

Blank City starts with the introduction of Amos Poe, who pretty much singlehandedly, started the “No Wave” trend. Befriending fellow directors and actors in the Bowery area of New York, Poe was able to create a subculture of struggling artists inspired by both the punk rock of the late 1970s and the likes of Sonic Youth and Lydia Lunch in the 1980s.

As the film progresses, the attention shifts to filmmakers and artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat who were most known for their street art, to the film Wild Style which highlighted the emergence of hip hop.

The film takes a darker turn with the likes of Richard Kern and Nick Zedd and the emergence of the “Cinema of Transgression.” Kern and Zedd’s films were made to shock and awe the audience and included ideas of anarchy with just enough humor to lighten the darkness. Some of the more memorable films to come out of this period were They Eat Scum and Fingered starring Lydia Lunch.

While the “no-wave” era has come to an end, its effects are still lasting in independent film and DIY cinema. Without the help of Poe, Kern, Zedd, and many others, most of NYC films would still only be seen through the lens of Martin Scorcese and Spike Lee.

One of the main films to strike a chord and really break out was, as mentioned before, Wild Style directed by Charlie Ahearn. Style detailed the rise of hip-hop in the inner city with the narrative driven by graffiti and break dancing. Featuring luminaries like Fab 5 Freddy and Grandmaster Flash, Ahearn was able to capture a moment in time when hip-hop was still a sub-culture based around having fun while still having a civil disobedience to it. It was really the “anti-Cinema of Transgression,” with having a much more positive message.

Some of the most effective images in the film, however, is a look at how New York City was a shell of it’s current self. Far away from the lights of Broadway and Times Square, were the ever-dangerous Bowery and the shady St. Marks Place-area of Manhattan. Before gentrification took over and moved most of the homeless and art galleries out of the area, most of the filmmakers lived communally and created a “cult of film” that hasn’t been replicated since. If you compare these neighborhoods than and now, you’d be hard-pressed to think that most of the area looked like World War II set pieces.

Blank City takes cinephiles down an interesting road that many outside of the era might not be aware of, and while it’s interesting, it can also be very polarizing. The film is preaching to a very devoted fan base, and will likely alienate most viewers with it’s anti-Hollywood message, but that doesn’t make the film any less interesting…to me at least.

To close this one out, yes, I still enjoy a big, dumb, Hollywood Summer Blockbuster, but there is always time for art, especially art that brings out the hungriest, grittiest, and at times, craziest filmmakers’. Blank City isn’t perfect, but at least it’s talking about a time in film that so many have either forgotten about, or simply, know nothing about. And hey, if you want to be truly punk rock, just check out the documentary right HERE.


★ ★ ★ ½

Written by Matthew Stewart from Simplistic Reviews
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But sometimes a motion picture is only worth one. Simplistic Reviews gives you a minimum one word review from avid film buffs Justin Polizzi, Matthew Stewart and DJ Valentine. If one isn't enough, you can read on and enjoy their further analysis of the film or television show. Simplistic Reviews is, for lack of a better word, GOOD.