"Less a movement than a barely unified period of gnarled transitions, No Wave is still best defined by its practitioners' aggressive nascence." Joseph Jon Lanthier in Slant: "The shrugging cancellation implied by its title — and alternate name, the 'Blank' Generation — suggests the awkward cusps inhabited by New York City's art scene circa 1977; it was post-Warhol and Underground but pre-indie, post-Beat and hippie but pre-punk, post-bohemian but pre-gentrification. The environment lacked a cohesive ethos save for an obligatory disdain for studied mainstream culture. And though it encompassed the first works by artists such as Amos Poe, Jim Jarmusch, and Glenn Branca, nearly all of its participants would move on and mature by the mid 80s. No Wave was indeed so brief, baroque, and localized that it might be most conveniently considered an amorphous prototype."
In Céline Danhier's Blank City, "the influence of Jack Smith, Jonas Mekas and Burroughs are cited," notes the L's Mark Asch, "political and historical junkies get little contextual hits as the influence of Reagan is juxtaposed with the exploding gallery market for street art from Wild Style's cast members, in between mentions of the Son of Sam, AIDS and club culture, and drugs and the Tompkins Square Riots… There's a wistful romanticism that pervades the many 16mm clips of artists and 'artists' walking alongside burned-out squats and vacant lots — the title's a riff on Amos Poe's documentary, Blank Generation, title from Richard Hell's song about the nihilistic glory of an empty canvas. Everyone gives their talking head in nicely appointed middle-aged apartments, and looks gorgeous and badass in the old photos that flicker before the end credits."
"The self-celebration is interrupted only late in the game by director James Nares, who slams Jean-Michel Basquiat for making it cool to have cash," notes Michael Wilson for Artforum. "From here, it's the fast track to something like mainstream success for a select few, and a digging in of heels for others. Most notable among the latter is Nick Zedd, whose 1985 manifesto stakes out a more lurid and confrontational territory in the form of the Cinema of Transgression… If Blank City has a star, it's not the more critically lauded and commercially successful likes of Jarmusch or Steve Buscemi, but this pouting man in black, a stubborn iconoclast who doesn't wanna grow up."
"Nothing in this assemblage of clips will convince anyone not already sold on the enduring artistic importance of these movements beyond the world bounded by 14th Street and the Holland Tunnel," writes Nick Pinkerton in the Voice. "Danhier has made a lifestyle-nostalgia oral history after the popular Please Kill Me model, but gets none of the tall tales and internecine grudging that made that tome so entertaining."
More from Joe Bendel, L Caldoran (Cinespect), David Fear (Time Out New York, 4/5), Michelle Orange (Movieline) and AO Scott (New York Times). Image above: From Patti Astor and Eric Mitchell's Underground USA (1980). Blank City is at the IFC Center in New York and will be traveling around the country in May.
Updates, 4/8: "In the abstract, this story's been told before. But in its particulars, Blank City is long overdue." A B+ from Noel Murray at the AV Club.
Stephen Saito for IFC: "There's no doubt it was difficult for Dahnier to track down many of the films today, which is part of Blank City's great appeal, as much if not more so than tales of how Jarmusch dragged houseguest Basquiat under the frame to keep him out of Permanent Vacation or Zedd making an autobiographical film about his ex-girlfriend Lydia Lunch dumping him starring the actress as herself. While that may be frustrating for those who want to delve deeper into No Wave cinema, it's almost appropriate that even in a history of such a transient cinematic movement, you're only treated to brief glimpses."
"It took 30 years for Charles Burnett's first film, Killer of Sheep (1977), one of the greatest evocations of daily hardship and joy, to receive a proper theatrical release," writes Melissa Anderson in the Voice. "17 have passed since The Glass Shield (1994), his scorching, complex look at racism and police corruption, and his last movie to be picked up for distribution. Yet Burnett has never stopped working: MOMA's complete retrospective redresses the neglect this singular filmmaker, the foremost storyteller of African-American lives, has often withstood." Charles Burnett: The Power to Endure opens this evening and runs through April 25. Cinespect's Ryan Wells interviews Burnett, who has "about five or six projects total in the works," among them a documentary on Barack Obama's mother, Ann Dunham. Image above: My Brother's Wedding (1983), screening Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
Disappearing Act III, a showcase of European cinema, opens tonight in New York with a series of free screenings of "19 films that have made a name for themselves among critics and on the festival circuit, yet remain largely unknown to American audiences." Through April 14.
Nick Schager in the Voice: "Resuscitating the semi-autobiographical navel-gazing of their 1993 breakthrough indie My Life's in Turnaround, Eric Schaeffer and Donal Lardner Ward pick up with their respective alter egos, Splick and Jason, 18 years later, in They're Out of the Business, still struggling to both solidify cinematic careers and find love." More from Diego Costa (Slant, 1/4) and Mike Hale (NYT). At the IFC Center.
NOT IN NEW YORK
The Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente (site) opens today and runs through April 17. What to see? Micropsia has gathered recommendations from Scott Foundas, Robert Koehler, Jaime Pena, Mark Peranson and Neil Young.
International House Philadelphia presents a program of shorts from the Robert Flaherty Seminar this evening.
IN OTHER NEWS
Projectorhead is a new film journal out of Delhi whose first issue features editor Gautam Valluri's interview with Matthias Grunsky, Anuj Malhotra on Jules Dassin, Kaz Rahman's "Islamic" reading of Kiarostami's Close-Up, Ankan Kazi on "New Bengali Cinema," Svetlana Naudiyal on Kundan Shah's Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro (Who Pays the Piper, 1983) and a string of capsule reviews of recent releases.
For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.