The Blank Generation (1976)
Runtime: 54 min
Color: Black and White
Director: Ivan Kral & Amos Poe
Blondie ... Themselves
David Byrne ... HImself (lead singer, Talking Heads)
Wayne County ... Himself
Jay Dee Daugherty ... Himself
Chris Frantz ... Himself (member, Talking Heads)
Jerry Harrison ... Himself (member, Talking Heads)
Deborah Harry ... Herself (lead singer, Blondie)
Richard Hell ... Himself
Lenny Kaye ... Himself
Ivan Kral ... Himself
Patti Smith ... Herself
Richard Sohl ... Himself
Chris Stein ... Himself
Talking Heads ... Themselves
Johnny Thunders ... Himself
Tom Verlaine ... Himself
Description: An invaluable document of a long-lost era, The Blank Generation "sets the style for the Punk Documentary—raw, sloppily spliced, unsynched footage of bands, with sound recorded by cassette. The effect is total disorientation and CBGBs performances by Talking Heads ("Psycho Killer"), Blondie ("He left Me"), Ramones ("Shock Treatment", "1-2-3-4, Let's Go") Tuff Darts and many of the other New York bands fill up this frantic, crowd-pleasing film.
CBGB, the small Bowery Avenue club that spawned and nurtured American punk and New Wave music in the mid-70s, closed earlier this fall after a three-decade run. Fortunately, New York filmmaker Amos Poe was hanging out at CBGB in its early days and began filming performances by many of the musicians who would become the stars of the late 70s/early 80s as the rest of America embraced punk and New Wave music and style. Taking his silent 16mm footage and separate audio cassette recordings, Poe and co-director Ivan Kral (guitarist for Patti Smith) put together a documentary, "Blank Generation" (1976), that 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. Neither a collection of music videos nor a straightforward documentary, "Blank Generation" captures in embryonic form vital appearances of the Talking Heads, Blondie, the Ramones, Television, and, most belligerently of all, Patti Smith.
In the film the Patti Smith Group performs a rousing version of “Gloria” that makes you want to jump, scream, and run around the room/block/world. With her androgynous looks, thriftshop clothing, snarling voice, biting lyrics, and middle-finger attitude, Patti Smith is obviously well on her way to becoming the intellectual godmother of punk. Television (with Tom Verlaine) performs “Little Johnny Jewel,” complete with an insert of a portable TV being tossed off a building (a forerunner of music videos incorporating performance and dramatic recreations). The Ramones come on with “Shock Treatment” and “1,2,3,4, Let’s Go,” providing a sad moment while realizing 1,2,3 are already gone. Their leather jackets, sunglasses, pageboy haircuts, and plenty of proto-punk attitude helped establish one style for male punks. Looking very art-school, almost preppie, David Byrne and The Talking Heads perform “Psycho Killer” and bring their soul-stirring rhythms into the mix. The outrageous Wayne County with his big hair wig, high heels, and shapely legs in fishnet stockings (obviously influenced by Charles Ludlum’s Theater of the Ridiculous, John Waters’ films with Divine, and the New York Dolls in their gender-bender period of 1973) sings the lovely “Rock ‘n’ Roll Enema” while brandishing a toilet plunger. Not a pretty sight but not meant to be. And then there is Blondie, with the deadly gorgeous Deborah Harry and her perfect cheekbones, artful makeup, and blonde superstar hair. A complete antithesis of Patti Smith, Harry harkens back to the era of the chanteuse and the Hollywood siren of the 30s.
The presence of both artists at CBGB shows that it was a very flexible musical era. Even the title of the film, inspired by the Television song, indicates open possibilities in the mid-70s "The Blank Generation" suggests that in 1975-1976 it was still a [fill in the blank] generation with no definition, self-imposed or media-determined. That was a post-Watergate, post-hippie, post-activist time of new possibilities, all clearly championed and captured in Amos Poe’s film.
—Chale Nafus, Director of Programming, Austin Film Society