Blank Generation On DVD

Published on March 30th, 2010 in: Culture Shock, DVD, DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews, Movie Reviews, Movies, Music, Reviews |

By Less Lee Moore

Richard Hell got me my first paying job in the music industry. Sort of.

blank generation cover

I’d pasted an old Star Hits photo of him and former wife Patty Smyth in a fanzine I did in the mid-90s. During a job interview for Monkey Hill Records in New Orleans, then-co-owner Jimmy Ford, zeroed in on the photo. “They met in rehab,” he chuckled, and pointed outside to an old behemoth that looked like something from a movie. “That’s Richard’s car in the driveway. We’re old friends.”

I’d had a strange fascination with Richard Hell ever since repeated viewings of Smithereens on USA’s Night Flight in the early ’80s. Then there was his “cameo” in Desperately Seeking Susan. I even got his autograph at a poetry reading at Café Brasil in New Orleans (before the Jimmy Ford interview, even).

Thus, I found the description of Blank Generation was intriguing:

“. . . the classic punk rock movie from 1980. . . illustrating the end of the first wave of New York City punk rock better than any documentary. 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 (playing himself).”

Wow, I’d love to see a movie like that! Unfortunately, Blank Generation is not that movie. The music, by the acclaimed Eliot Goldenthal, is stunning; the cinematography by Ed Lachman, shows the burned out, sleazy New York you’ve heard about but never seen (unless you’re of a certain age); and the performances by Richard Hell and the Voidoids illustrate why they’re still spoken of in awed tones.

Even all that can’t save this mess of a film. There’s a whole lot of forced conflict; a practically non-existent story arc; awkward stabs at acting; a bizarre attempt to introduce a faux-Videodrome theme commenting on the false nature of the media (which fails miserably); and perhaps worst of all, many examples of why high-waisted jeans are a bad idea for men.

Richard Hell is gorgeous (high-waisted jeans aside) and the live performances are grand, but awkward lines like, “Who’d even want to feel like me? I don’t,” are truly cringe-worthy. The continuing saga of journalist Hoffritz (played by director Ulli Lommel) trying to schedule an interview with Andy Warhol (whose three minutes of screen time are awesome) is kind of hilarious, but completely destroys the dramatic tone that the movie tries to create in the first half.

The best line in the whole film is spoken by Hell: “We would’ve separated long ago except for the children,” he tells Hoffritz, who looks confused. “Me and Nada,” continues Hell, with a smirk on his face. Although this probably wasn’t even intentionally funny, it makes me wish that the whole movie had the same kind of ironic, satirical tone of a David Markey film. Now that would be something worth revisiting.

If you manage to sit through the whole thing (and honestly, if you like Richard Hell or Andy Warhol it is totally worth it), the real payoff comes in the bonus feature, a 40-minute interview with Richard Hell, conducted in 2009 by writer and critic Luc Sante.

Hell and Sante deconstruct—okay, they totally eviscerate—the film and Ulli Lommel. After a while you almost feel sorry for poor Lommel (that is, unless you are familiar with his oeuvre) except that he seems like a raging prick who brought it all on himself.

On the other hand, for being such a well-known and accomplished artist, Hell is extremely humble, albeit obviously intelligent and incisive, with a low key sense of humor and spot-on observations about what an “atrocious and profoundly worthless” exercise the film was and still remains. Trust me, every exasperated, embarrassed, annoyed feeling that you had watching Blank Generation is dissected and validated completely by Hell and Sante. It’s tempting to list all their hilarious comments, but it’s way more fun to suffer through the movie and then watch them for yourself, like a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode for the new millennium.

Even though Blank Generation the movie is almost an abysmal failure, it’s well worth picking up this DVD.

Blank Generation was released by MVD Visual on February 23 and is available from See Of Sound and Amazon.

One Response to “Blank Generation On DVD”

  1. Popshifter » Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide To Punks On Film:
    January 30th, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    […] I never have and still don’t understand), not to mention not nearly enough criticism for the practically abysmal Blank Generation (directed by Uli Lommel), a film which is only saved by the Richard Hell bonus […]

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