1976 Film Blank Generation Documents CBGB Scene with Patti Smith, The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie & More

Fans of bratty New York punk-turned-serious writer Richard Hell or schlocky German horror director Ulli Lommel or—why not—both, will likely know of Lommel’s 1980 Blank Generation, a film unremarkable except for its casting of Hell and his excellent Voidoids as feature players. (Their debut 1977 album and single are also called Blank Generation.) The movie, as a reviewer puts it, “seems as if each member of the production was under the impression they were working on a different film than the rest of their collaborators…. You can’t help but think that something more watchable could be produced out of the raw footage with a good editor.”

One might approach an earlier film, also called Blank Generation—the raw 1976 documentary about the budding New York punk scene above—with similar expectations of coherent production and narrative clarity. But this would be mistaken. The first Blank Generation is a film that rewards no expectations, except perhaps expecting to be constantly disoriented. But that would seem to me a given for a genuine document of what Lydia Lunch christened “No Wave,” the deliberately tasteless 70s hybrid of punk, rock, new wave, noise, free jazz, and jarring combination of amateur and professional experimentation that came to define the sound of downtown for decades to come.

Shot and directed by frequent Lunch and Patti Smith collaborator Ivan Kral and pioneering indie filmmaker Amos Poe, the documentary features Smith, The Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, Television, The Heartbreakers, Wayne/Jayne County, and pretty much everyone else on the CBGB’s scene at the time. The Austin Film Society sums it up well. Kral and Poe’s Blank Generation

exemplified a punkish attitude toward film structure with handheld zooms, angled compositions, floodlight lighting, extreme close-ups, elliptical editing, flash pans, and a general in-your-face and “up-yours” stance. Sound and image purposely do not synch. In many cases music and image were recorded on separate nights—more economical because of the high cost of raw film stock with sound, but also an aesthetic nod to Jean-Luc Godard who had slashed the umbilical cord uniting sound and image. Out of the French New Wave came the New York No Wave.

The influence is evident, though it’s not particularly useful context. Really, all you need to know is contained within the frame: in the lilting rasp of Patti Smith’s “Gloria,” in close-up shots of Joey Ramone’s crotch and filthy sneakers, in the youthful David Byrne’s jangly acoustic guitar and the sleazy lounge-punk of Television’s tribute to Iggy Pop, “Little Johnny Jewel.” Of course later No Wave stalwarts like Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, Swans, Sonic Youth, John Zorn, DNA, and Mars don’t appear—but some get their due elsewhere. And while the Hell/Lommel film might be worth a watch for curiosity’s sake, the first Blank Generation is a truly incredible historical document that deserves repeated viewing.

It’ll get added to our collection of 600 Free Movies Online.

Related Content:

CBGB’s: The Roots of Punk Lets You Watch Vintage Footage from the Heyday of NYC’s Great Music Scene

Debbie Harry Turns 68 Today. Watch Blondie Play CBGB in the Mid-70s in Two Vintage Clips

The Ramones in Their Heyday, Filmed “Live at CBGB,” 1977

The Talking Heads Play CBGB, the New York Club that Shaped Their Sound (1975)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness



Make knowledge free & open. Share our posts with friends on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms:
Share on TwitterShare via emailShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrSubmit to StumbleUponDigg ThisSubmit to reddit

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Choose a comment platform

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  1. Richard Rivette says . . . | December 17, 2013 / 10:30 am

    Was there filming at times while in art school w/luminaries in the field. Little did we know our rough cut videos would be archive footage once day. What an avant-garde scene it was in the surreal nights of the clubs.

  2. Road cat says . . . | January 9, 2014 / 8:52 am

    Learn all about the Ramones in the book;
    “ON THE ROAD WITH THE RAMONES”.
    Throughout the remarkable twenty-two-year career of the Ramones the seminal punk rock band, Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famers, Recording Academy Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winners and inductees into The Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, Monte A. Melnick saw it all. He was the band’s tour manager from their 1974 CBGB debut to their final show in 1996. Now, in this NEW UPDATED EDITION he tells his story. Full of insider perspectives and exclusive interviews and packed with over 250 personal color photos and images; this is a must-have for all fans of the Ramones.

Add a comment

Loading Facebook Comments ...
Quantcast