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“Blank City,” Reviewed

“Blank City,” Reviewed (photo)

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Although it’s an unfortunate turn of phrase given the era, the best way to describe the documentary “Blank City” is still as something of a gateway drug when it comes to the late ’70s, early ’80s underground film scene in New York. It’s easy to tell this since it’s obvious French director Celine Danhier recreates her own experience of discovering the no-budget avant garde movement known as “No Wave” cinema in her documentary, presenting one snippet of rare footage after another, teasing the audience with clips of Michael Holman’s self-descriptive “Vincent Gallo as Flying Christ” and Charlie Ahearn’s groundbreaking hip-hop flick “Wild Style” and having such personalities as Deborah Harry and Steve Buscemi talk about what a wild and crazy time it was.

It’s the shortcoming of “Blank City” that it isn’t as adventurous in mirroring the era the film documents, settling into a style where the era’s survivors talk about the crazy things that happened in the usual talking head format at a remove in new interviews, but when you have alternative culture iconoclasts like Richard Hell, Nick Zedd and Jim Jarmusch onhand, it’s still enough to keep things lively, especially when they’re placed next to clips of a woman pounding a nail into her head in Vivienne Dick’s “Guerillere Talks” or “The Long Island Four,” the late Anders Grafstrom’s film about Nazis who make their way to America.

The title, of course, is a reference to Hell’s punk band The Voidoids’ song “Blank Generation” and the film of the same name that inspired in 1980. As it’s repurposed by Dahnier, it suggests the bombed out Lower East Side of Manhattan as a canvas on which filmmakers, locked arm in arm with the vibrant music and art scenes that were simultaneously going on, were allowed to express themselves freely and created a body of work that would ultimately prove influential as well as unusually important anthropologically, as films like the Jean-Michel Basquiat starrer “Downtown 81” and Richard Kern’s walking tour “Goodbye 42nd Street” captured the economically plagued area gave way to artistic experimentation.

At first, “Blank City” feels as though it’s going to chronicle everything, which would be unnecessary since recently there’s been a wave of documentaries about the era such as “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child” and “Burning Down the House: The Story of CBGB” that have covered similar territory while concentrating on one medium, though ultimately “Blank City” wisely does the same. Out of the clips and interviews emerges a fascinating history of how a group of radical filmmakers were able to beg, borrow and steal equipment and film stock to create content and distribute it themselves through the New Cinema on St. Marks, director Becky Johnston’s makeshift video theater that would show the films nearly moments after they were shot. And though the films were tossed off quickly after being produced, they were thought through as reactions to what the filmmakers saw in mainstream cinema, rectifying gender and racial imbalance and not afraid to be overtly political.

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.

“Blank City” is now open in New York before opening on May 6th in Denver and Chicago.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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