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|10.13.15||MUBI|| So... if I could travel through time... And I'm not saying I believe that one day I will be able to do this but I'm saying if I COULD... I'd take a tour of places in times that seem especially interesting. Right at the top of my list of these times/places is NYC in the late 70s/early 80s. I'd leave before AIDS comes in, but right up until then you have this incredible confluence of neglect and energy and creativity and freedom. I feel like a decent percentage of the docs on this site have been circling this era and this doc has managed to land right in the middle. Watching this felt like finding a piece of the jigsaw puzzle that's right in the middle but it hasn't been placed because it accidentally fell on the floor or it was stuck in the box or something. TV Party, Klaus Nomi, early Hip Hop and films like Wild Style, Jim Jarmusch, CBGBs and bands like The Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads and Richard Hell, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Times Square, The 77 Blackout, and the post-apocalyptic destruction of the Bronx and the lower east side. I feel like I've seen films focused on all of these topics yet this one film also touches on them all. Furthermore, it fills in a huge blank spot in my cinematic knowledge: NYC Underground films.|
I had a vague notion of this stuff... like I knew Andy Warhol was doing stuff with Paul Morrissey and making really obtuse art films and whatnot... and I'd also heard the names Richard Kern and Lydia Lunch in various industrial music circles like I think Marilyn Manson hired Kern to direct his first music video and Trent Reznor did something with Lunch back when I was into all that stuff... but I never really knew the story of who they were and what they did and I certainly didn't know (although I should have) that they tied into Jarmusch and John Lurie and Tom DiCillo and Steve Buscemi or anything like that.
So this doc was like crack for me. I lapped up every frame. It was one of those things where I didn't even know that I was looking for this knowledge until I found it, but as soon as I learned of this movie's existence I watched it and loved the shit out of it. I mean I was staring at pics of a young Debbie Harry on /r/oldschoolcool TODAY and marvelling at how amazing she looked when she was young. So... I have to give props to MUBI. I totally signed up for that site just to watch Junun (i cancelled my subscription before I got the activation email), but they sent me an email about this and pretty much fulfilled their exact mission of presenting curated content that I didn't even know I wanted until they showed it to me. So good job, MUBI. Do this a few more times and I'll re-up my sub!
Anyway... This has so much which is right up my alley by way of interviews, film clips, and source music... but what's interesting is that I didn't find myself really wanting to track down any of the films they discuss. And there were a ton of them. Really there's only one: Downtown 81, which I might try and see. The rest seem too rough for me to actually get much out of actually watching, which makes this movie even better because now I don't have to!
This also makes me wonder even more about John Waters. I think I saw or read or... somehow ingested a chunk of his biographical data back when I watched a bunch of his movies (perhaps it was DVD commentaries), but it sort of astounds me that... ok so this film really details how there was a vibrant community of artists living in the lower east side and incubating this incredible surge of culture which included these personal amateur films that aimed to shock and provoke reaction. But then there's John Waters more or less doing the exact same thing, except he's all alone down in Baltimore. I don't think he had any sort of community to draw inspiration and competition and support from... he's just making these crazy movies all alone (with Divine). Maybe there was a similar yet much lesser known scene in DC and Baltimore at the time? Or maybe Waters visited NYC a lot? Who knows... His early work perfectly falls in with all the other films shown here though... they were certainly aiming for the same target.
So anyway, now I feel like I know what Kern's and Lunch's "deal" is, and I got to see a super young Steve Buscemi acting with a super young Mark Boone Jr. (skinnier but still with the crazy hair and beard!) and roughly a half dozen jigsaw pieces clicked together thanks to this. I loved it.