In trying to escape the depression and paranoia that have become part of daily life in New York City since the attack, I turned to a stack of DVDs waiting for me to review. Hoping for a little escapism I found three consecutive movies about three totally different communities in New York. Taken together, they only help to underscore the tragedy of the deaths of so many different kinds of people as well as the death of a certain kind of environment that fostered diversity. Each film, of course, also features its own view of the World Trade Center, whether a gloriously lingering establishing shot or the kind of subliminal glimpse you take when you just assume something will stand forever. The fact is shots of the towers in films used to signify location, a short-hand for the great city. Now they will forever also indicate time. Whenever you see the towers in a movie you'll automatically know: This takes place before September 11th, 2001.
A Life Apart: Hasidism in America - Once in the Life - The Blank Generation / Dancing Barefoot THE STRAIGHT DOPE:
Amos Poe and Ivan Kral's The Blank Generation is not really a documentary about the mid- to late-70's underground rock scene centered around CBGB's. It is more like an historical document that has survived the commercialization and eventual dissolution of that scene. Shot in 1975 at CB's, The Blank Generation features many of the scene's then-rising stars, like Talking Heads, The Ramones, Television, Blondie, The Patti Smith Group, and The Dolls, as well as other punk innovators like The Heartbreakers. The idea was to document the energy and sounds of these bands for those in the crowd then to be able to relive together. The film itself, despite what everything you read about it may indicate, does NOT contain "performances" from these musicians. It consists entirely of black and white 8mm footage of the bands playing with their music not synched up on the soundtrack. While the aesthetic that emerges matches the patchwork style of the bands and the clubs, it makes the viewing experience less enlightening than, say, actual live gigs would have been. Still, seeing Talking Heads as a three-piece (and David Byrne before he got his teeth fixed), or baby-faced Joey Ramone, or Patti Smith's raw energy still makes watching The Blank Generation worthwhile. Wisely paired up with The Blank Generation on this DVD is Dancing Barefoot, an hour-long piece produced for Czech television about Ivan Kral (nicknamed "The Bad Czech"), an integral part of the CB's crowd. He briefly played with Blondie early on, then played in Patti Smith's band through their four seminal albums, then with Iggy Pop and John Waite, before branching out on his own. Kral found himself in New York at a young age and soon became banned from returning to Czechoslovakia. Without an American citizenship he was a man without a home. His political experiences along with his love for rock and roll made him a perfect addition to Smith's band and Dancing Barefoot (named for a Kral-penned song that appeared on Smith's album Wave) details what made this combination click. Stopping along the way to delve into each group Kral played with (the film pulls no punches in its portrayal of Iggy Pop's late-70s' early-80's drug dependence), Dancing Barefoot is a fascinating look at an unusual character. It includes interviews with members of Blondie, Talking Heads, The Ramones, as well as Iggy Pop, John Waite, and Patti Smith, and includes footage from The Blank Generation. Essentially, The Blank Generation lacks any real sense of cultural context, since it was made, and still exists, in the center the then new world of downtown rock. Dancing Barefoot, by concentrating on one of the people from that world, helps provide some of that context. VIDEO:
The video for The Blank Generation is appropriately grainy and battered. While the film has obviously been through hell the transfer looks pretty good. The black and white has nice contrast and the images are crisp. Dancing Barefoot consists largely of footage shot on video and it all looks fine, if plain. Both films are full-screen. AUDIO:
The audio The Blank Generation is muddy and weak. Many of the recordings are of primitive versions of these bands, before the record contracts and fancy recording studios. While the songs are audible, they don't approach the audio clarity that even most bootlegs have. Dancing Barefoot fares better for the most part but is still not too dynamic. Live recordings from later on sound better. EXTRAS:
There are a series of songs presented as extras with footage played over them. Some of the footage repeats from the two films while much of it doesn't. FINAL THOUGHTS:
The Blank Generation and Dancing Barefoot make a fine double feature, even though neither film would really stand up on its own. Together they tell the story of a music, a movement, and a frame of mind. E-mail Gil at firstname.lastname@example.org