Blank Generation

A bad film is enlivened by its location shooting and several music performances by Richard Hell and the Voidoids.

Blank Generation

Director: Ulli Lommel
Cast: Carole Bouquet, Richard Hell, Ulli Lommel, Suzanna Love
Distributor: MVD
Release Date: 2010-02-23

Blank Generation, Ulli Lommel's somewhat distracted feature, filmed in the Lower East Side of New York in early 1978 (released in 1980), has been reissued on DVD. Despite many problems, the film retains some appeal due to its locations and several filmed performances featuring co-star Richard Hell and his band, The Voidoids.

The story, such as it is, follows Nada Lumiere (Carole Bouquet), a French journalist who has been spending a winter in a large downtown loft and conducting interviews for French television. She has taken a lover named Billy (Richard Hell), a struggling rock musician whose band plays at CBGB while waiting for some kind of management deal. Nada and Billy make love, engage in pointless fights, and share vapid conversations.

Billy's mounting frustrations with his career overwhelm him and he decides to sell off the rights to all his original material. Nada's European lover Hoffritz (Ulli Lommel) arrives unexpectedly, determined to get an interview with Andy Warhol for German television. Billy meets Lizzy (Suzanna Love), who weilds a Super-8 camera and says she's making a film based on randomly following successive strangers (a sort of proto-Slacker). Everyone becomes consumed with filming and interviewing each other except for Billy who, cheque in hand, has removed himself from the fray, although he still pines for Nada. Eventually, Andy Warhol shows up and sardonically sums up what is going on.

Does it need to be said that Blank Generation is not exactly a good film? There is little continuity to the story, many scenes are awkward, dialogue is badly written, and the acting is wooden at best. It's possible, and this is alluded to by Hell in the accompanying interview, that the elliptical storytelling is more a function of Lommel's conceptualizing the film as a neo-Godardian exercise than an example of poor storytelling techniques. This tact is certainly reinforced by Nada's ever-present video camera, several on-screen interviews, and basically the entire second half of the film, after the arrival of Hoffritz, when the lovers-in-New-York story is jettisoned for a sort of self-referential mash of partly developed ideas and quoted cinematic aphorisms. Revealing as this may be of certain pretensions amongst would-be hip filmmakers of the era, Blank Generation is too inconsistent to be assigned to any category.

Still, the film is attached to a time and place which holds interest. Richard Hell's partly autobiographical character expresses an ennui closely related to that of Hell and The Voidoids as the film was being shot. The band members were just a couple of months removed from a troubled tour of the UK (backing The Clash), and had experienced a series of delays in the release of their first album. The hiatus caused by Hell's involvement in the film allowed drummer Mark Bell to accept a standing offer to join The Ramones. and The Voidoids were never to regain traction.

Their one album remains a classic, however, and Hell himself retains credit for being a seminal figure in the New York underground, if not punk rock itself. A member at various times of The Neon Boys, Television, The Heartbreakers, and The Voidoids, Hell's compositions such as "Blank Generation" and "Love Comes in Spurts" were being performed on the CBGB stage as early as March 1974, and the simple aggression of his bass playing was a key influence on what was to become the punk rock sound. Malcolm McLaren, before returning to London to create the next big thing, took note of Hell's spiky hair and ripped t-shirts adorned with safety pins.

This DVD features a surprisingly clean and bright print – a huge improvement over previous releases – which highlights the talent of cinematographer Ed Lachman. The compositions are full of internal frames and reflective surfaces; and numerous interior scenes are lit naturally even as huge windows reveal a background of bright perfectly exposed streets basking in the winter sun. New York's Lower East Side looks almost glorious as many locations showcase the neighborhood's late-'70s grunge décor. An obvious familiarity with CBGB allows for a few memorable set pieces, either of the Voidoids performing on stage or the graffiti-laden band rooms and equally clustered staircase leading down to the dreaded bathrooms.

The extra feature is a 42-minute interview with Richard Hell conducted by fellow New York-based writer Luc Sante. Whether commenting on his place in the musician-turned-actor pantheon ("I do get some consolation that I'm not as bad as Bob Dylan"), or summing up the film's achievements ("there's actually not a single truthful authentic moment in the whole movie"), Hell is refreshingly candid and articulate with his bemused recollections of the shoot and the personages involved.





Luke Cissell Creates Dreamy, Electronic Soundscapes on the Eclectic 'Nightside'

Nightside, the new album from composer and multi-instrumentalist Luke Cissell, is largely synthetic and electronic but contains a great deal of warmth and melody.


Bibio Discusses 'Sleep on the Wing' and Why His Dreams Are of the Countryside

"I think even if I lived in the heart of Tokyo, I'd still make music that reminds people of the countryside because it's where my dreams often take me," says Bibio (aka Stephen Wilkinson) of his music and his new rustic EP.

Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.


A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.


The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.


90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.


Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

'Avengers: Endgame' Faces the Other Side of Loss

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our pandemic grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.


Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.


Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.


First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.