“Blank City”, from French director Céline Danhier, had its Philadelphia premiere last Friday at the Ritz Bourse Theater on 4th and Chestnut. The documentary provides an oral history of the No Wave Cinema and Cinema of Transgression movements in the Lower East Side in the late 1970s into the mid-1980s. Via interviews with an impressive cohort of members (including: Jim Jarmusch, Nick Zedd, John Waters, Deborah Harry, Fab 5 Freddy, Richard Kern) Danheir attempts to synthesize what the movement was, and what it meant to those involved.
A movement intimately tied to the punk scene and a close cousin of the experimental work of the Andy Warhol troop, No Wave is described as being torn between downtown exceptionalism and the impulse toward more accessible storytelling. But, because Danhier moves so rapidly between filmmakers and micro-eras, the opinion, theory and conjecture attached to the movement’s terms and evolution feel a bit random. Due to its pace, “Blank City” can’t help but be interpreted as anything other than the product of pseudo intellectual, punk nihilism.
Danhier, who makes her Directorial debut with "Blank City," answered a few questions after a screening of the film on Saturday, June 11th.
What inspired you to want to make this film?
I had no idea that there had been experimental films like this and I had never heard of any “No Wave” film movement coming out of New York, so I was very intrigued. I think I really connected to the energy and the creative freedom I saw or heard in the music from that period in New York and so to find out that there were all these films that existed — it was inspiring to me. After doing a bit of initial research it seemed that these films were almost impossible to see or get copies of and I began to realize I needed to track down the filmmakers themselves.
A few of the No Wave films are, to be honest, difficult to watch. Do you think there's a tendency to over-romanticize some of this work?
There was a great spirit and energy behind the making of
these films that I think comes across strongly on the screen. The filmmakers
shot with a very raw freedom and had this empty run-down city as their
playground so to speak.
There also was a lot of collaboration in the filmmaking process with other visual artists, writers, musicians, and all the great characters Downtown. I think as a viewer, that is what you take away from watching these films the most and so I don’t know that it is an over-romanticization. I think the filmmakers and the viewers share a knowledge that some of the films may be naïve or a spontaneous experiment between friends, but I think that is the magic of them.
What would you like people to take away from "Blank City"?
I think you can find a lot of inspiration in the way these films were created and in that whole creative community in the New York of that period. There were no boundaries and nobody telling you that you couldn’t do something. You had an idea – you found a way to make it happen. I hope that in the end, "Blank City" can inspire other people to get out there and make their own form of creative expression and not to be afraid to just go out and do it.