Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Movie Rentals, Week of 8/16/04

Continuing with last week’s 1970s theme, this week’s rentals focus on the other 1970s—the New Wave and Punk scenes of New York and London from the beginnings through the early 1980s. Here is what I watched:

BLANK GENERATION (1976) and DANCIN’ BAREFOOT (1995): This two-documentary dvd takes a look at the great New York underground bands. Only 55 minutes in length, Blank Generation is a grainy black & white super-8 film of bands performing inside of the famed club CBGBs circa 1975. Shot by Ivan Kral, bassist of the Patti Smith Group, the film shows the early performances of Blondie, The Talking Heads, The Ramones, Johnny Thunders and other great groups of the era. The film was shot without sound, so the filmmakers used later live performances as a soundtrack, resulting in out of sync sound and imagery that takes some getting used to. The film is raw and jerky, yet overall aesthetically matching the punk/new wave era it’s documenting. Dancin’ Barefoot is an hour long documentary produced by Czech television on Ivan Kral, a Czech exile, noted bassist of the Patti Smith Group and a filmmaker of Blank Generation. Along with scenes of the aforementioned film are great archival footage of Patti Smith and other great bands, along with contemporary interviews with Kral, Smith, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, and others.

SID AND NANCY (1986): This classic biopic stars Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb as doomed lovers Sid Vicious, bassist of the Sex Pistols, and groupie Nancy Spungen. The film follows the drug-dazed pair from their initial hook up in London, through the Sex Pistols disastrous U.S. tour, to Spungen’s bloody end in New York’s Chelsea Hotel. Excellent acting by Oldman and Webb, with a story at turns darkly humorous, poignant, and lurid.

DOWNTOWN 81 a.k.a. NEW YORK BEAT MOVIE (2001): This film featuring artist Jean Michel Basquiat was shot in 1981, yet was considered lost until its rediscovery and release in 2000/2001. The film follows the 19 year-old Basquiat—who at this time was going by the name SAMO and doing graffiti throughout the city—as he wanders around the streets of New York after getting kicked out of his apartment. As he drifts around the city, Basquiat does his graffiti and encounters mysterious strangers and friends, along with some great new wave bands of the era, including Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Tuxedomoon, DNA, and James White and the Blacks. This film is an incredible time capsule of early 80s New York.

I have a special, personal memory of Downtown 81. In 2001, the film was shown at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (my former employer) as a fundraiser. The film’s writer Glen O’Brien and Debbie Harry (who has a small role in the film) came as guests of the screening. Debbie was as cool as ever, still rocking the punk fashions and two-toned hair. She signed the jacket cover of my 45 rpm of RAPTURE that I bought back in elementary school. At that time, you were really cool if you could rap along with Debbie on the playground. “Fab Five Freddy tell me everybody’s fly/ D.J.’s spin makes me say “My! My!” It was a great night.

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