DID YOU READ

“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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.