Timing is a big part of why Celine Danhier's documentary on Manhattan's pre-Giuliani art/music/cinema scene is so fascinating. The best time to watch this documentary is now. What is happening right now? Wall Street is crashing. Wall Street is losing its grip on global power. Wall Street will eventually be replaced by Shanghai. Manhattan is in the twilight of its 25-year rule over every thinkable financial matter. Before Manhattan became Wall Street, however, it was a soft city, a place that had lots of room for poor artists. Blank City is about this lost soft city—the first city of Sonic Youth, Deborah Harry, Jim Jarmusch, Charlie Ahearn, Jean-Michel Basquiat, John Lurie, and many others.
The period of time roughly covered in the doc is between 1977 and 1988. By 1989, Manhattan is well on its way to becoming what the Marxist geographer David Harvey once described as "a gated community for the rich." This transformation is completed in 1995. Gone from Manhattan are the no-budget films, the dingy punk clubs, and the makeshift galleries and theaters of the No Wave, as the mood of that moment was called. Also gone is the raw and penniless hiphop culture captured in Charlie Ahearn's film Wild Style. By the mid-'90s, hiphop, like the larger art and music scene, is a big business. Because we are all becoming poor again, it's a great time see a film about artists who managed to create all sorts of things without money.
Northwest Film Forum, Fri–Tues 7, 9 pm.