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Blank City

Blank City: No Wave Movement of 1970’s New York

  • Amos PoeAnn Magnuson...
  • Documentary
  • Out now
  • Celine Danhier
reviewed by
Yasmin Shehab
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Blank City: No Wave Movement of 1970’s New York
This documentary chronicles the punk-influenced No Wave movement which took place in 1970s New York and included the likes of Blondie, Jim Jarmusch, Jean Michel Basquiat, Steve Buscemi and Sonic Youth.

It was a time when NYC was only broached by the hard core, or those with a death wish, and the artists that lived there were young, dirt poor and dabbled in everything from film to music regardless of whether they were any good at it. The movement didn’t last long but it’s effect on culture, and the indie film scene in particular, is still palpable today.

The documentary is made up of interviews with various partakers in the movement whether filmmakers, actors, singers or a combination of all three. It’s also filled with plenty of old footage of the interviewees from both their films and concerts. The thing about these kids, and they were practically kids back then, is that they just seem so cool. They barely had any resources or education and yet were highly prolific anyway.

They would try anything as if they had no fear of failure. They weren’t afraid of screwing up because the process and the act of creation were the important parts; if the product ended up sucking it was no big deal because they’d already be at work on the next piece. At least that’s the vibe that the documentary gives off. It also helps that the modern day, grown-up No Wavers seem every bit as cool as they did back then. 

Blank City is particularly interesting for artists, regardless of your discipline, though filmmakers stand to gain the most. In addition to giving you a real feel for how the movement went down, how its predecessors and its legacy influenced it, the film is also a kick in the junk. It shows how the indie film scene started during a time when HD cameras were not cheap enough that everyone and their mother would tote them around and call themselves filmmakers.

Despite the drawbacks that come mainly in the form of over saturated, sun drenched, “artsy” shots of food splashed all over Facebook, the increased availability of cameras is a godsend to filmmakers. We now have micro-budget films such as Like Crazy, which looks incredible, that was shot on a Canon 7D – a relatively affordable camera – and was highly acclaimed by both critics and audiences. 

Like This? Try

Stranger Than Paradise (1984), Coffee & Cigarettes (1986), Basquiat (1996).

360 Tip

Despite how tightly connected New York is to the No Wave movement, it took Danhier, a young, French director, to make this documentary. She succeeded beautifully.

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