Cast & Crew
Nada, a beautiful French journalist on assignment in New York, records the life and work of an up and coming punk rock star, Billy. Soon she enters into a volatile relationship with him and must decide whether to continue with it, or return to her lover, a fellow journalist trying to track down the elusive Andy Warhol.
Blank Generation - BLANK GENERATION - New York City's Punk Rock Scene is the Setting for This 1980 Feature from Director Ulli Lommel
After ten years of steady work in West Germany alongside German-Neuer Deutscher Film wunderkind Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Ulli Lommel paddled out ahead of the second wave of Eastern Bloc filmmakers flocking to American shores. Lommel's arrival in the States fell between the crossovers of Milos Foreman, Ivan Passer and Roman Polanski before him and Wolfgang Peterson and Renny Harlin in the years afterward. While those immigrant filmmakers would go on to enjoy far more lucrative Hollywood careers, Lommel's sum total of finished films just might outdo their combined efforts. With such early features to his credit as the Fassbinder-produced Die Zärtlichkeit der Wölfe (The Tenderness of the Wolves, 1973), a fictionalized account of the crimes of German serial killer Fritz Haarman, and Ausgerechnet Bananen (Monkey Business, 1977), in which he starred opposite his then-girlfriend Anna Karina, Lommel pointed himself toward Canada. At the Montreal Film Festival, American programmer Roger Deutsch, a protégé of film distributor Joseph Green (director of the one-off schlock classic The Brain That Wouldn't Die), invited Lommel to come to New York, promising an introduction to artist/entrepreneur/film producer Andy Warhol. Warhol ultimately agreed to back Lommel's first two English language films and made rare, iconic appearances in both.
Filmed without a finished script in the harsh New York winter of January and February 1978, Blank Generation benefits immensely from the loose-knit star performance of Voidoids singer-songwriter Richard Hell, whose punk rock anthem "Blank Generation" provided Lommel's shapeless, aimless guerilla production with its title and point of view. Looking like the love child of Mick Jagger and Mischa Auer, Hell plays an up-and-coming rocker from Manhattan's Lower East Side who feels himself squeezed between the predatory encouragement of music industry sharks (Howard Grant and Ben Weiner as an amusing Mutt & Jeff team) and amoral French photojournalist Nada Lumière (Carole Bouquet, between Buñuel's That Obscure Object of Desire and For Your Eyes Only), who obsessively records the intimate moments of her life to maintain an emotional distance. Théâtre de l'Absurde-isms abound and the film suggests more than it states frankly. While no one in his right mind would argue that Blank Generation is on par with Jean Luc Godard's À bout de soufflé (Breathless, 1960), which seems a direct influence, or even Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg's Performance (1970), the film does achieve and maintain an unfiltered freshness entirely missing from the contemporary American independent film scene and points intriguingly, in its use of the video camera as a fetish item, to David Cronenberg's Videodrome (1984), which furthered the notion of a society evolving at the illusion of 24 frames per second.
MVDVisual's all-region DVD of Blank Generation looks surpassingly fine for a grungy, low budget production shot on the fly over a full generation ago. No complaints about picture and sound and the packaging is minimalist but attractive. MVD has sweetened the package of this now-rare film with live, vintage footage of Richard Hell and the Voidoids performing at the sadly defunct CBGB, as well as a 45 minute interview of the retired musician by Luc Sante, author of Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York. Fans of Blank Generation who expect to be thrilled at the prospect of catching up with Richard Hell (who went on to another big role in Susan Seidelman's Smithereens but was reduced to playing a dead body in Seidelman's subsequent Desperately Seeking Susan) will find themselves sorely disappointed by the often negative tone of this chat, during which Sante proves himself to be a surprisingly unprepared interviewer (he seems entirely unaware of the subsequent career of Academy Award winning film composer Elliot Goldenthal) who never challenges (even in a sporting Devil's advocate way) any of Hell's allegations while Hell himself dishes on Ulli Lommel's vanity and derides his value as a filmmaker. There are some good making-of tidbits buried within the fault-finding (Hell also points out some famous faces in the crowd scenes shot at CBGB) but the sum total of negativity is desultory rather than celebratory. To his credit, Hell is an otherwise self-effacing and thoughtful interview subject who wonders ultimately if his take on Blank Generation is the best if only Luc Sante had been up to the task of teasing out the value of this slight but nonetheless historically important film.
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by Richard Harlan Smith