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

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  • 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.

  • Road cat says:

    Learn all about the Ramones in the book;
    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.

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