director Celine Danhier
The 1970’s New York City was a gritty, crazy, vibrant environment, birthplace of innumerable musicians, artists, writers, poets, and filmmakers. And by all accounts was one of the coolest times and places for such stuff as anytime anywhere. While a multitude of music styles from Hip Hop/Rap to Punk, post-punk, new wave, everything caught fire around the same time, there is no singular story to tell, about any form, any medium, any style. While documentarians have been catching up with a number of bands in their day, particular artists of the time, scenes too obscure for notice, director Celine Danhier turned her camera to the No Wave film scene and the later “Cinema of Transgression” that crossed over significantly with the multitude of music scenes, though assumingly No Wave in particular.
The only filmmaker who has really achieved sustained critical success in feature films that arose from this time is Jim Jarmusch, who appears among a multitude of familiar faces of the “I was there” folks. Lydia Lunch, Debbie Harry, Steve Buscemi, Thurston Moore, and John Waters all offer their vantage and memories to this effort.
Clips from films are shown. Mostly of films that I’ve never seen. Some of the more highlighted names like Amos Poe, Lizzie Borden, Beth B. and Scott B., I know very little about and have never seen their work. So, it’s hard to know how good/bad any of it is/was. The style of filmmaking is paralleled to punk rock, people picking up instruments (cameras) with a do it yourself attitude, not needing to know what they were doing.
The latter section of the film, featuring Nick Zedd and Richard Kern and the “cinema of transgression” I remember a bit more from the 1980’s. I haven’t really re-viewed any of those films since then and would have to put it in front of myself again to form an opinion. In some ways, it sort of stretches out the period in question in New York, though the 1980’s continued for quite a while to carry over that same vibe of danger and possibility in the country’s largest city.
The film doesn’t really manage to draw any greater image of the time. It’s better perhaps than the more purely music-oriented No Wave documentary Kill Your Idols (2004). Maybe what would be most comprehensive, though sadly perhaps the ultimate of co-opting and homogenizing would be to have a Ken Burns “Jazz”-like story about the New York scene of the 1970’s-1980’s. Maybe that could be more the punk movement itself or maybe by staying in one location and telling as comprehensive a story as possible would animate the material further.