No Wave Film: Ephemera of a Pornucopia of Art Terrorists in 1970s New York

From the late 70s to the mid 80s, No Wave cinema, also known as New Cinema, was experimental, transgressive, intimate, raw, underground, immediate, fast, joyously amateurish, low-budget, fun and above all independent. Taking its name from the influential musical genre and the french new waveand influenced by the works of Andy Warhol, John watersJohn Cassavetes, George Kuchar, Ron Rice and Jack Smith, the No Wave movement found its home in a decrepit from New York City Lower East Side low rents.

cinema without waves

Amos Poe, The Stranger, photograph by Debbie Harry, 1977

Filmmakers like Kembra Pfahler, Beth B, Jim Jarmusch, Tom DiCillo, Steve Buscemi, Vincent Gallo, Amos Poe, Nick Zedd, Diego Cortez and Tommy Turner were influenced by the raw energy of punk music and the art world of the city of New York in the 1960s and 1970s.

These ephemeral photos of the No Wave scene are from Gallery 98a fabulous treasure trove of food to buy,

cinema without waves

Underground USA, an Eric Mitchell film with Patti Astor and Rene Ricard, Screening of the film, 1980.

no wave

Bleecker Street Cinema, Ecstatic Stigmatic, Gordon Stevenson, Mary Kathryn Cervenka, Arto Lindsay, Flyer, c. 1980

no wave

Whitney Museum, No Wave Cinema, 1978-87, Card, 1996

“I’m a self-professed dilettante, and it’s not a bad thing for me, because I’m interested in many things, from 17th century English music, to mushroom identification, various varieties of ferns, all sorts of things… being a dilettante is useful if you make movies, because movies have all these other forms in them. I’ve been finding more and more that a lot of great directors I love were dilettantes or are…

“My thing is dilettantism, amateurism, I think I’m an amateur, because amateur means that you do something for the love of a form, and professional means that you do it for your job, you get paid, and nothing against it! – and variations. That’s my holy trinity lately of what my defining priorities are: be a dilettante, be a hobbyist, and appreciate variations in all expressions. Because I love variations. For me, it’s the most beautiful way to accept that all things are really variations of other things.”

–Jim Jarmusch


cinema without waves

Red Italy, a film by Eric Mitchell, at New Cinema, 1979

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Beth B and Scott B, in Max Karl, Photography, 1978

Amos Poe and Ivan Kral, The Blank Generation, Booklet, 1980

The Kitchen, James Nares, Photo by Marcia Resnick, Desirium Probe, Card, 1978

Gordon Stevenson, Euphoric Stigmatized, 1980

The backdrop for all of No Wave’s music and film was New York. The list spoke with Vivienne Dick, the influential filmmaker behind She had her gun ready about being there at that moment:

Some parts definitely looked and were like Berlin at the end of the war, down the avenue A, B, C, down there. But I didn’t live there; I lived between 1 and 2 9th Street. So where I lived was very much a neighborhood, people would sit on the steps and on the roof; it was a very friendly place. I mean, okay, there was a lot of unemployment at the time and a really bad economy, and there was often the danger of being mugged, but it wasn’t bad enough to worry about it, and we actually didn’t. I don’t really take it seriously. I didn’t feel in any danger there at all, it wasn’t a bit like that, it was very much a social place. Much more than London is. Or maybe like in Brick Lane, where everyone is on the street. It’s a bit like that.

Lydia Lunch has offered her version of 1970s New York City:

“It was a drug-fueled, blood-soaked pornucopia of art terrorists documenting their personal descent into the bowels of a hell in a city that looked like lunatics had taken over the madhouse.”

The criminals brochure

cinema without waves

Johnny Thunders, portrait from the Rachel Amodeo film “What About Me”, card, provisional (Wyoming), ND

UNDERGROUND USA PUBLICITY PHOTO, Rene Ricard, Patti Astor, Eric Mitchell (Director), 1980

In its early days, the Mudd Club was a central gathering place for the downtown No Wave movie scene. The poet and actor René Ricard (1946-2014), the actress Patti Astor and the filmmaker Eric Mitchell were regulars at the club. This publicity still for Underground USA (1980), directed by Mitchell, was photographed at the Mudd Club, where several scenes for the film were shot.

Amos Poe, The Stranger, 1978

Charlie Ahearn, The Deadly Art of Survival, Screen Print Poster, 1979

Max's Kansas City, Scott B and Beth B, The Offenders, Flyer, 1980

Max’s Kansas City, Scott B and Beth B, The Offenders, Flyer, 1980

KINESTHESIS, Jim Jarmusch, Permanent Vacation, Card, 1980

KINESTHESIS, Jim Jarmusch, Permanent Vacation, Card, 1980

Beth B and Scott B, Black Box, Lydia Lunch and Bob Mason – 1979

Amos Poe, Duncan Hannah, Eric Mitchell, Debbie Harry, Unmade Beds, Booklet, 1976

Danceteria, Jim Jarmusch, John Lurie & the Lounge Lizards, Ester Balint, Stranger Than Paradise Screening Party, Card, 1982

Danceteria, Jim Jarmusch, John Lurie & the Lounge Lizards, Ester Balint, Stranger Than Paradise Screening Party, Card, 1982. This screening party was for the 30-minute version of Stranger Than Paradise, which was shown briefly before the release of the feature film . movie in 1984.

Arena Puccini, New(or No) Wave, curated by Diego Cortez and Edit DeAk, 3-fold booklet, 1980

Arena Puccini, New(or No) Wave, curated by Diego Cortez and Edit DeAk, 3-fold booklet, 1980

Anthology Film Archives, Charlie Ahearn, Doin’ Time in Times Square, Card, 1991

.In 2010, French filmmaker Céline Danhier created a documentary film titled Blank City. The film presents an oral history of the no wave cinema and Transgression Cinema movements.[35] through interviews with Jarmusch, Kern, Buscemi, Poe, Seidelman, Ahearn, Zedd, John Waters, Blondie’s Debbie Harry, hip-hop legend Fab 5 Freddy, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Jack Sargeant. The soundtrack includes music by Patti Smith, Television, Richard Hell & The Voidoids, James Chance and the Contortions, Bush Tetras and Sonic Youth.[36][37]

In 2011, the Museum of Art and Design celebrated the movement with the “No Wave Cinema” retrospective, which included works by Jarmusch, Kern, Mitchell, Poe, Zedd, Scot and Beth B., Lizzie Borden, Edo Bertoglio, and Kembra Pfahler.[38][39]

Like the subsequent Dogma 95 creative movement, No Wave Cinema has been described as a watershed period in low-budget film production.[40]

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