Thursday, 23 January 2014

BLANK CITY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Terrific documentary focuses on independent underground filmmaking scene and its relationship to the punk music scene. The NYC movements paralleled similar scenes in Winnipeg at the time and makes for a doubly fascinating experience. The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with SPUR, the NEW MUSIC FESTIVAL and the WINNIPEG FILM GROUP CINEMATHEQUE present a celebration of all things forgotten about Winnipeg.

The Winnipeg Film Group Cinematheque presents a special series of films in conjunction with SPUR and the WSO’s New Music Festival featuring Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm with a brilliant score by Winnipeg-born Mychael Danna, two important films from the New York underground filmmaking scene (Sara Driver's When Pigs Fly and Celine Dahnier's documentary Blank City), Craig Baldwin’s Spectres of the Spectrum (featured to complement WSO’s new opera on genius inventor Nikola Tesla created by composer Phil Kline and film director Jim Jarmusch) and last, but not least: several key works which reflect Winnipeg’s past and often conflicted view of itself - Death by Popcorn: The Tragedy of the Winnipeg Jets (from ATELIER NATIONAL DU MANITOBA - Walter Forsberg, Matthew Rankin, Mike Maryniuk), Forsberg's Fahrenheit 7-Eleven, Rankin's Negativipeg and Ryan McKenna's Survival Stories: The Greg Klymkiw Story (which is - YOU GUESSED IT - about ME! Maybe I'll have the nerve to review it). And, I'm sure you're going to enjoy this: I'm moderating a Panel Discussion on the topic of Forgotten Winnipeg on January 28, from 6-7pm on the Piano Mobile at the Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg.

As part of a co-venture between Spur, a festivals of politics, art and ideas and the WSO's New Music Festival, participants will include Bruce Duggan, Deco Dawson, Frank Albo and Esyllt Jones.

Today, let's take a look at BLANK CITY playing WFG's Cinematheque Saturday, Jan. 25 @ 9PM. Be sure to come at 7pm and get tickets for this AND Sara Driver's WHEN PIGS FLY. Jim Jarmusch - IN THE FLESH - will be in attendance to present the 7pm show. BLANK CITY (at 9pm) is a terrific documentary portrait of the New York filmmaking/music scene that paralleled Winnipeg's own scenes at the same time - a Winnipeg forgotten save by those who lived it and the films and music that survive. For further information on how to secure the Winnipeg masterpieces by John Paizs, Greg Hanec and Guy Maddin, check out the links below this article.

Jim Jarmusch on
NYC's 70s No Wave Cinema Movement:

The inspirational thing
was people doing it
because they felt it.


Blank City (2010) ****
dir. Celine Dahnier

Starring: Amos Poe, John Lurie, Steve Buscemi, James Nares, Jim Jarmusch, John Waters, Sara Driver, Lizzie Borden, Susan Seidelman, Ann Magnuson, Richard Kern, Nick Zedd, Beth B. Scott B., Debbie Harry, Lydia Lunch, The Ramones, The Talking Heads, Wayne County

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Blank City is such an immersive, joyous and always thrilling movie experience that a little part of me hopes that audiences not as obsessed with movies, queer culture and punk as I am will get as much pleasure out of it as I did. I think they will, but probably in different ways.

The converted will feel like they've died and gone to Heaven while others will either wish their most formative years as young people had been during the late 60s, 70s and a smidgen of the early 80s or, at the least, they'll come away with a new appreciation for the beginnings of truly DIY cinema and the sheer joy from living as art and art as living.

Director Celine Dahnier and Producer/Editor Vanessa Roworth weave a thoroughly entertaining narrative with a tight three-act structure (beginnings, heydays, end of days), truly inspiring, informative interviews and lots of great clips (with driving music that propels us with considerable force).

We hear and see a lot of Amos Poe - and so we should. Poe is, for many, the Godfather, the spirit, the soul of the entire movement of underground filmmaking in New York - coined by the great film critic Jim Hoberman as "No Wave". Poe describes his early beginnings as a photographer and tells a great story about visiting relatives in Czechoslovakia and how he eventually journeyed deep into "Dracula Country" within the Carpathian Mountains to surreptitiously "steal the souls" of superstitious rural country-folk with a long lens.

Returning to New York after Russian tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia to assert their Totalitarian power, Poe, like so many young people in America, especially artists, was ultimately gobsmacked by the sheer devastation within his country. The assassinations of JFK, RFK, Martin Luther King, the seemingly endless Vietnam War, the lies and corruption of government, the civil unrest, wholesale murder and assaults upon Americans, on American soil by Americans.

In Canada, we felt much of the same strife in other ways - firstly as a trickle-up effect from our neighbours south of the 49th parallel, but secondly, the more insidiously and subtly creepy manner in which the Canadian Government preyed on its most vulnerable, its intelligentsia, its First Nation Peoples, its Queers, its artists and anyone not subscribing to the Status Quo.

Artists Ann Magnuson and James Nares respectively note how punk rock was an ideal response to the remnants of post-war Leave It To Beaver blandness that permeated America, clutching on to control for dear life and emitting death gasps that seemed to signal something all together new waiting in the wings. What this movement became was something that the young artists of New York embraced with a fervour (a "fuck you" movement/scene that, in its own way was happening in Canada at the same time in direct conflict with reigning Protestantism in Toronto and backwards, insular midwestern homogeneity in Winnipeg.)

Amos Poe spent endless nights hanging in bars where friends like Patti Smith, The Talking Heads, The Ramones, Wayne County, Debbie Harry and Television played (initially) in obscurity, save for the "scene" in New York. Poe had long since abandoned his first loves, still cameras and the 8mm home movie camera and hung in these joints shooting the bands on silent black and white 16mm and record their music (not synched, of course) on cassette tape.

Out of this came Poe's highly influential Blank Generation. Once he had all the footage, he needed to edit it. He rented an editing room from the Maysles Brothers (Gimme Shelter) for $40, but was only allowed one straight 24-hour period to cut the film. Poe fuelled himself with speed, cut for 24-hours, then premiered the film the next night at the famed punk bar CBGBs.

From here, underground filmmaking in New York exploded and this was TRULY underground. It had nothing to do with the equally cool, but snobby artistes amongst the experimental film crowd, this was a wave of cinema created out of the punk movement and sought to capture the energy of the "scene", but to also tell stories and, of course, with virtually no money.

They wrote the rules and broke the rules.

The city was bankrupt, and the lower East Side of New York looked like a blasted-out war zone. Whole buildings stood empty and while most "sane" people left NYC, the "freaks" stayed and even more descended upon it.

People wanted to make movies. They had no money, but this mattered not. They made them anyway. James Nares describes how artists could, for virtually nothing, secure astounding digs that served as studios: "We lived like itinerant kings in these broken down palaces." This truly became the antithesis to Hollywood and the mainstream. In fact, there was almost the sense that the Lower East Side WAS a movie studio, but with absolutely nobody in charge.

Blank City blasts through these glorious days and it's so much fun that you as an audience member hope, unrealistically, for it not to end. After all, the movie is a Who's Who of great filmmaking talent. Steve Buscemi seems to be in almost every movie, John Lurie not only makes music, but makes movies. Scott and Beth B, Lizzie Borden, Sara Driver, Susan Seidelman, Jim Jarmusch, John Waters, Nick Zedd and Richard Kern are but a few of those who flourished here (and are expertly interviewed by the documentary's filmmakers).

And, an end to all good things must come. Blank City reveals how the neighbourhood becomes gentrified and the lives led in a particular place and time are altered forever - as are the films. Some stay, others move on. What doesn't change is that for a glorious time, a scene of talented young people raged against the machine and made movies that captured a way of life and (both the filmmakers and their films) happily live on to influence and inform new generations.

If anything, Blank City is proof positive that Waves in filmmaking (or any great art) cannot be manufactured. They must come from the lifestyle, the gut, the artistry and invention of young passionate artists who find each other, support each other, make movies WITH each other, FOR each other and in so doing create a unique and indelible stamp upon the greatest magic of all.

The magic of movies.

After seeing Blank City on a big screen, it makes for an extra-special keeper disc for filmmakers, film lovers and/or old punks. Anyone who makes movies, cares about movies and can't live without movies must see and own this film. More importantly, after seeing it, do whatever you have to do to see the movie that started it all, Poe's Blank Generation and after you see that, dig up as many of the rest as you can. They make for great viewing. Blank City on Blu-Ray, looks and sounds GREAT. The disc is also chock-full of some superb supplementals. It's via Kino-Lorber.

It would, of course, be remiss of me to ignore the fact that this is an extra-special film for me as it captures an indelible period that parallels a similar scene in Winnipeg that spawned a very cool explosion in indie underground cinema that I and many colleagues and friends were involved with - a period coined by film critic Geoff Pevere as Prairie Post-Modernism that included the works of John Paizs, Guy Maddin, Greg Hanec and many others.

A great selection of early Guy Maddin can be secured directly through the following links:

Another great film from Winnipeg during this period is Greg Hanec's extraordinary DOWNTIME which has the distinction of being a parallel cinematic universe to Jim Jarmusch's "STRANGER THAN PARADISE". Both films were made at the same time in two completely different cities and scenes and both Hanec and Jarmusch premiered their films at the same time at the Berlin Film Festival. One's famous, the other isn't - but now that the "lost" and "found" DOWNTIME has been remastered from original elements to DVD, it can now be purchased directly online.

Order DOWNTIME directly from the film's new website by clicking HERE

Perhaps the greatest Canadian independent underground filmmaker of all-time is Winnipeg's John Paizs. It's virtually impossible to secure copies of his astounding work which, frankly, is responsible for influencing the work of Guy Maddin, David Lynch, Bruce McDonald and an endless number of great indie filmmakers the world over. Paizs' great short film SPRINGTIME IN GREENLAND is available for purchase in a beautiful remastered edition from a fan website, the inimitable Frank Norman. Norman has Paizs' blessing to provide copies of the film, so feel free to directly make your request to Mr. Norman by clicking HERE.

Visit Frank Norman's CRIME WAVE
fan site by clicking HERE

Alas, it's super-impossible to get a copy of Paizs' masterpiece CRIME WAVE (not to be confused with the super-awful Coen Bros/Sam Raimi film of the same name that was released the same year Paizs' film was NOT released properly by its scumbag Canadian distributor Norstar Releasing, which eventually became Alliance Films (where the boneheads sat on the film and turned down several excellent offers from small indie companies to release the film properly on DVD in super-deluxe special editions because they lazily purported to be negotiating a massive package deal on its catalogue titles with some tiny scumbag public domain company that, as far as I can tell, has neither purchased nor released the film). This truly great and highly influential film is, no doubt, languishing in some boneheaded distribution purgatory within the deep anal cavities of the new owner of Alliance Films, a humungous mega-corporation called E-One. Feel free to repeatedly bug their stinking asses and demand a proper release. In the meantime, VHS copies of CRIME WAVE can still be found with the ludicrous title THE BIG CRIME WAVE. Here's a copy available on Amazon: