Your willingness to slog through this punk-inspired drama — that is admittedly artsy and boring, rife with a lack of narrative clarity, bad acting, and an overall production incoherency courtesy of its failed Fellini-esque noodling (Warhol’s a great artist, but considered terrible at filmmaking in most quarters) — hinges on your fandom of Richard Hell, the music of the Voidoids, and nostalgia for the ’70s New York East Village punk scene spearheaded by the Bowery-based club CBGB’s.
Or perhaps that willingness hinges on your tolerance for the serial killer-obsessed oeuvre of direct-to-video German horror schlockmeister Ulli Lommel (Tenderness of the Wolves, The Boogey Man, BrainWaves, The Devonsville Terror) and, for the film buffs, Lommel’s connections to the works of Russ Meyer and Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
But as a piece of cultural history for music buffs (especially of punk music), while amateurish in places, this Ulli Lommel and Andy Warhol co-production (they previous worked together on 1979’s Cocaine Cowboys; a tale about a rock band subsidizing their lifestyle via drug running) won’t disappoint.
Now, before we get started . . .
Let’s clear up the fact that there are two films carrying the title of the influential Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ tune (that inspired the Sex Pistols to write “Pretty Vacant”). The First: we picked up as a VHS bootleg tape set inside a black hard-clamshell case with a Xerox’d cover on the shelf of our local indie punk record store (tucked between a Hallmark gift n’ card store and a falafel joint). The Second: most of us watched it for the first time during an early ’80s late night viewing on the USA Network’s Friday night “Night Flight” music video programming block (alongside Hell’s other starring role in Susan Seidelman’s 1982 punk chronicle, Smithereens).
That first film, 1976’s The Blank Generation (carrying the grammatical article prefix), is a 16-mm black & white DIY documentary co-directed by Lydia Lunch and Patti Smith Group guitarist Ivan Kral and “No Wave” director Amos Poe (who went mainstream with 1984’s Alphabet City; starred Vincent Spano of Over the Edge, Matt Dillon’s first film). That film features grainy, live performances by Patti Smith, Blondie, Television, the Ramones, Talking Heads, the Heartbreakers, the Shirts (fronted by Annie Golden, later of Susan Seidelman’s 1985 Madonna-starring, Desperately Seeking Susan), Wayne County, and the Tuff Darts (featuring soon-gone original lead singer Robert Gordon) on the stage of CBGBs.
As for the narrative, dramatic version of the second film: Hell stars as Billy, an ascending musician and poet on New York’s local art scene that’s experiencing his first taste of fame across the pond; so Nada (Carole Bouquet, who starred as a “Bond Girl” in 1981’s For Your Eyes Only), a French filmmaker and journalist, comes to the States to interview him. Their journalist-subject relationship quickly progresses into a romantic triangle when Nada’s other lover, Hoffritz (Lommel), comes to New York to interview Andy Warhol (who cameos) — and Billy must choose between his career and love for Nada.
Uh, yeah. It’s a punk-tinged love story that’s more A Star is Born (1976) than a punk-rise-and-fall tale of the Breaking Glass variety. But what other film gives you the Voidoids (Robert Quine, Ivan Julian and Mark “Marky Ramone” Bell; later of Rock ‘n’ Roll High School) at the top of their game searing through “Liars Beware” and their punk anthems “Love Comes in Spurts” (featured in Christian Slater’s Pump Up the Volume) and “Blank Generation” from the stage of CBGBs?
You can stream Blank Generation (1980) for the low, low price of $.99 on Amazon Prime Video, but guess what? We found a free stream over on You Tube, Midnight Pulp, and YuYu TV. As for The Blank Generation (1976): there’s no online streams or DVD reissues (official or grey market) in the online marketplace, but we found a free streaming copy on You Tube to enjoy.