Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
"Blank City" is the comprehensive documentary about underground New York in the 1980s. It highlights a flexible and plastic time in New York when the streets were seamy and smoky and morals were loose. Everyone was there and everyone did everything. The Pop Era was over but the specter of Andy Warhol was still visible. The city itself was at the edge of bankruptcy and a new Right Wing was coming to power. In response to this, young artists took to the streets to produce art for art's sake in a New York that was tightening its social mores like a noose that would eventually choke this neon bohemia. These energetic kids were big on ideas but short on money, living in abandoned or bombed out buildings on the East Side. And there were cockroaches.
Basquiat was alive and painting. Jim Jarmusch was a kid. Steve Buscemi was a snaggletooth paleface and John Lurie was a drowsy drifter. Blondie was, well, new. Together these kids became adult Little Rascals of Transgression. they worked off of each other, they traded and stole and actually made art with their hands. And they caused real mischief, most often with humor. The house band of the moment, according to the film were The Contortionists, a minimal electric band that sounded like a spasm. I wish they were still around. In the film James Chance talks fast as if he still has a bit of amphetamine whimsy left in him. Thank Goodness.
The film does a thorough job of explaining the period's roots and theories. Filmmaker Amos Poe is here talking about his start, as are the Bs: Scott and Beth. John Waters makes yet another routine appearance in an art house documentary (always seeming both sophisticated and transgressive, to his credit.)
At times the film seems a bit too academic with a lot of quirky talking heads reminiscing. But the film's footage of Chris Parker, star of Jarmush's first feature as he walks about a desolate street is startling.
My favorite part of the film is Nick Zedd. Tall and gaunt, he is unapologetic and smirking as he talks of making his gory anti-government films. I have yet to see a Zedd film, but he has my respect for such titles as "Geek Maggot Bingo" And Lydia Lunch was in Divine-type roles that were as potent as John Waters. What a literal Bombshell.
Although "Blank City" is conventional in its format, the characters of Chance, Zedd and Lunch (how about that, for the name of a transgressive diner?) makes this encylopedia of Kook watchable.
Does anyone know where I can find The Contortionists on iTunes?
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org