NYC’s Iconic Punk Club CBGBs Comes Alive in a Brilliant Short Animation, Using David Godlis’ Photos of Patti Smith, The Ramones & More

Atten­tion young artists: don’t let your day job kill your dream.

In the mid-70s, David Godlis kept body and soul togeth­er by work­ing as an assis­tant in a pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dio, but his ambi­tion was to join the ranks of his street pho­tog­ra­ph­er idols — Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Gar­ry Wino­grand, and Lee Fried­lan­der, to name a few.

As Godlis told Ser­gio Burns of Street Pho­tog­ra­phy, “the 60’s and 70’s were great for pho­tog­ra­phers:”

The 35mm cam­era was kind of like the new afford­able tech­nol­o­gy of the day. Like hav­ing an iPhone you couldn’t talk on. Cool to look at, fun to use. Pho­tog­ra­phy was only just begin­ning to be con­sid­ered an art form. Which left plen­ty of room for invent­ing your­self. The movie Blow-Up showed off the kind of cool lifestyle that could be had. Pho­tog­ra­phy seemed both adven­tur­ous and artis­tic. There were obvi­ous­ly a mil­lion career paths for pho­tog­ra­phers back then. From the sub­lime to the ridicu­lous. But plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ties to exper­i­ment and find your own way.

Still, it’s a tough propo­si­tion, being a street pho­tog­ra­ph­er whose day job gob­bles all avail­able light.

Or rather, it was until Godlis blun­dered into New York’s late, great punk club, CBGB’s, and resolved to “take street pic­tures at night with­out a flash, and make all these peo­ple look as inter­est­ing as a Ramones’ song sounds.”

In broth­ers Lewie and Noah Klosters’ won­der­ful hybrid ani­ma­tion, Shots in the Dark with David Godlis, we see things fall into place as Godlis exper­i­ments with expo­sure times, dark­room chem­i­cal ratios, paper grade, and the street­lights lin­ing the Bow­ery.

He wound up with a brac­ing per­son­al style…and some of the most icon­ic shots in rock his­to­ry.

The Klosters, who were grant­ed full access to Godlis’ dig­i­tal archive (a request Lewie Klosters likened to “ask­ing the pres­i­dent for the nuke codes”), breathe extra life into this bygone scene by hand-cut­ting and pup­peteer­ing images of such stal­warts as The Ramones, Pat­ti Smith, Tele­vi­sion, Richard Hell, Talk­ing Heads, Alex Chilton, and Blondie.

Those who inhab­it­ed the scene in an off­stage capac­i­ty are also giv­en their due, from the door atten­dant and the bar­tender with the Dee Dee Ramone hair­cut to own­er Hilly Kristal, his dog, and the cool kid patrons pack­ing the leg­en­dar­i­ly filthy estab­lish­ment.

This seems to be a reflec­tion of the irre­press­ible, and end­less­ly curi­ous Godlis’ world view. As Lewie, who had 16 hours of audio inter­view to draw from, told the Vimeo blog’s Ina Pira:

Ken Burns could make his next 20 hour doc­u­men­tary on Godlis alone. If you ever bump into him, and you will — he’s every­where all at once in the Vil­lage, ask him about some of our favorite sto­ries that hit the cut­ting room floor: Jager at the Revlon Bar, the bum piss­ing out the win­dow, when he was held at gun­point in Boston, about Merv and the Heinekens, and see­ing Bob Dylan win­dow shop­ping. Just to name a few.

The final moments of Shots in the Dark with David Godlis are bit­ter­sweet. The film­mak­ers’ sub­ject sums it up best:

 Noth­ing lasts for­ev­er, but you also have to know what will be of inter­est when it’s gone.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

CBGB’s Hey­day: Watch The Ramones, The Dead Boys, Bad Brains, Talk­ing Heads & Blondie Per­form Live (1974–1982)

Pat­ti Smith Plays Songs by The Ramones, Rolling Stones, Lou Reed & More on CBGB’s Clos­ing Night (2006)

AC/DC Plays a Short Gig at CBGB in 1977: Hear Met­al Being Played on Punk’s Hal­lowed Grounds

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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