BLANK GENERATION Anchor Bay Entertainment [DVD]

Film, as a medium, has long been ruled at the box office by storytellers who keep it simple and captivate large audiences. Blockbuster movies are usually the least expensive to bring home and the easiest to obtain. There just isn’t as much money in limited home video releases of smaller, more idiosyncratic films. But don’t tell that to Anchor Bay Entertainment. They have made a business of bringing small films back from the fringe and making them available on DVD. Make no mistake, this is a hit and miss proposition, and Anchor Bay has re-released their share of overly avant-garde or campy fare; but there are some surprisingly strong films in their catalog as well. “Blank Generation” is one of those pleasant surprises. Even though the DVD has absolutely no special features (not even a trailer), this somewhat unorthodox little film itself proves worthy of the re-release. Ulli Lommel’s 1979 movie about a punk singer named Billy lasts just shy of 80 minutes, and in that time very little actually happens. In fact, there isn’t much acting to speak of either. Richard Hell imbues Billy with little more than an ability to speak, and Carole Bouquet, as his aptly named girlfriend Nada, had more challenging scenes as a Bond girl in “For Your Eyes Only.”
Almost inexplicably, this is not a bad thing at least not for the patient viewer. The film eschews common storytelling elements in favor of a style more akin to photography. The scripted lines serve merely as captions to the scenes, context to tie one image to the next. And the images are wonderful, a mix of film and early video ? hinting at “Sex, Lies and Videotape” years in advance. Shots of New York City’s Lower East Side, and the famed club CBGB, combine well with Lommel’s portraits of each character. A brief scene in which Nada interviews Andy Warhol (in a cameo appearance) is beautifully shot with a hand-held camera; this kind of intimate direction, and the mere presence of the famed pop artist, further bolsters the credibility of the piece. The effect of watching the film is like walking through a photo exhibit of the 1979 New York punk scene and realizing that the same people keep appearing in the photographs. By the end you have a very unique sense of the individuals who populate the pictures.
In addition to his strong visual choices, Lommel also offers a view of punk life that feels very natural and unaffected. There is no contrived anger, no lashing out at society, no fighting between band members. Very little of what we have come to expect to see in a film with this setting appears here. Instead, Billy spends time playing his music and engaging in an on-again off-again relationship with Nada. None of the characters have clear direction or motivation; and while 80 minutes with wishy-washy people could prove boring, through Lommel’s lens it seems more meditative. The film is filled with people acting out of habit, and slowly beginning to realize that they’re not quite sure what they want. By the end, they still don’t know, but at least they seem to have begun to consider the options.