Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Two Reviews: Blank Generation (1980); The Blank Generation (1976)

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2022
Film screenshots from the Internet

Blank Generation
Directed by Ulli Lommel
Dark Force Entertainment; MVD Entertainment
78 minutes, 1980

There are lots of stories surrounding the making of this important, yet Grade C level film. One of my favorites – and I am not positing it is true or not – that the director, Ulli Lommel (d. 2017), was so envious of the love scenes between stars Richard Hell and Carole Bouquet, that he wrote himself into the plot so he could possibly have his own chance with her. This jealousy also took a simple story and flushed it down the toilet as far as plotline quality goes. Well, to be honest, I have not seen the film since around the time it came out and saw it at some art house in New York City, so this will honestly be like watching it for the first time.

After a brief prologue, we get smacked in the face with the title song, one of my all-time favorites (it’s the Voidoids version, not the original Ork release). The sound is crisp and clear, but we only get to hear the first two stanzas, and it fades out after Hell tells Bob Quine to “take it.”


Richard Hell

Richard Hell plays up-and-coming punk singer Billy. Musically, it’s Hell pure and simple, no matter what name they give him. He’s vying for a record contract and while in the recording studio (singing “New Pleasure”). It is there he meets French video journalist Nada (Bouquet), and sparks fly while we get to hear the complete song. Yay. This leads of a volatile, almost schizophrenically up and down relationship between the two.

Billy is quite cynical about the music biz and is trying to figure out his role either in or out of it, while his long-suffering manager with a thick NYC accent, Jack (Howard Grant), is trying to guide his career, though the question is whether it is for Billy or his own financial stake that he is there.

Carole Bouquet

At some point, German journalist Hoffritz (Lommel) enters the picture as Bouquet’s former lover who has shown up looking for Andy Warhol (d. 1987), who makes a cameo in the film. This sets up a dynamic of a “who will she choose?” scenario: the rock star who wants nothing more to do with music (with no reference on what he would do instead) or the cynical journalist who is obsessed with Warhol. While Nana is hooking up with Hoffritz, Billy is with Lizzy (Suzanna Love), another filmmaker. One minute it’s Billy and Nada, then it’s not, then it is, then it’s …

Whatever the weaknesses in the storyline and especially the dialogue, which often borders on the ridiculous (the “beach” conversation in the car is a perfect example), this film is a must-see just for the visuals of the gritty New York City of the late 1970s, including under the West Side Drive, on a rooftop with the iconic water towers, and especially the scenes in CBGB, which are both a joy and heartbreaking. [As they scanned the tables, I realized that I have sat at just about every table there; small digression that has nuthin’ to do with nuthin’: I was in the hospital having a procedure, and as the doc was getting ready to give me a huge needle, he said, “think of a happy place, like a beach or a mountain.” My mind went immediately to sitting at a table at CBGB waiting for the band to start…] It was also fun to see the backstage (a room I have been in numerous times) which highlights some graffiti of The Senders. Meanwhile, the Voidoids (Hell, bass/vox, Quine on guitar, Ivan Julian on guitar, and Mark Bell – the future Marky Ramone – on drums) get to show off live on CBGB’s stage. Warms the cockles of my heart. Amusingly, perhaps, there is a scene shot at CB’s of Nada interviewing a bunch of club denizens (I am assuming they are real rather than actors), reminiscent of the early Amos Poe film, The Blank Generation, reviewed below.

Ulli Lommel, Andy Warhol

There are lots of cameos by some who were critical and omnipresent to the scene at the time, such as violinist Walter Steding, fashion maven Natasha, and of course, Warhol.

Bouquet is quite beautiful, and Hell is in his prime (1977 Big Star magazine interview with Hell from 1977 HERE), (with his original teeth and all). What he lacks in acting talent, he makes up for in enthusiasm and making some amazing music that helped spark the whole British punk movement when Malcolm McLaren (d. 2010) infamously ripped him off from sound to fashion.

Most clips I have seen of the film over the years have been taken from VHS copies, and were highly grainy (as VHS tends to be), but this Blu-ray is crisp, as it is a 2K scan taken from the only remaining 35mm print! That only one survives is something I am both grateful for, and indignant about its lack of care of the rest of the prints. That being said, for a Blu-ray release, there are zero extras on this, but I don’t care because the main meat of the matter, the film itself, is the rightful focus.

Speaking of technology, it is fun to see the state of art mechanics of the time, such as video recorder cameras that are separate from the tape deck, dial phones, old cars, and the such.

The biggest problem with the film is that it is inconsistent to its own theme, jumping back and forth between stories with gaps in-between that make the viewer feel a bit shell shocked and while it’s not confusing, it really doesn’t make much sense. I was more interested in the Billy/Nada relationship, and the adding of Hoffritz just feels superlative. If the film could have focused on just the couple, with their ups and downs, it would have been much more interesting. Though the live music helps, even though there is excessive use of the title cut throughout, and there is obvious reuse of some shots such as Billy coming up from the CBGB bathrooms, and of the Voidoids on stage (shown at least three times). I understand why this film has a rep for being a muddled mess, because on one hand it is just that, but if you were there at the time, or if you wanted to know what it was like, this is more an important time binding document than story.

According to IMDB, Lommel still presently has projects in works, both as director and actor, 5 years after he has died; his other big success might arguably have been The Boogyman, a film he directed that came out the same year as this release. His later works seemed to rely on stories of real serial killers.

IMDB listing HERE 


The Blank Generation
Directed by Ivan Kral and Amos Poe
Blank Generation LLC
54 minutes, 1976

This film documents, what it calls, the birth of punk rock in New York during the early 1974-75 CBGB (mostly here; closed 2006 and is now a clothing store) and Max’s Kansas City (closed 1981 and is now a deli), with some shots from other venues such as the Bottom Line (closed in 2004, and is now a student’s residence for New York University). But in some ways, it overlaps with its own midwife, but more on that later.

The film is jumpily shot by Patti Smith Group guitarist Ivan Kral on silent 16mm, and is then audibly superimposed by the sounds of the band’s recordings, either legitimate releases, demos, or live cassettes.

The premiere of the film was held in CBGB, when the stage was still on the left side, so needless to say in all the CBGB footage in the documentary, that is where the infamously (and hotly debated) Television-built stage was located. It is nice to see the huge photos sans stickers and band graffiti that would eventually cover them up in the 1980s and ‘90s. The band that played the night of the opening was the Heartbreakers, with Richard Hell still a member. I saw the Heartbreakers so many times on stage, but that was the only time with the Hell line-up, before Billy Rath replaced Hell on bass), and Johnny Thunders and Walter Lure moved to the front permanently out of Meyer’s shadow.

The Patti Smith Group

The film is broken up, essentially though not officially, into three chapters. The first one is the “birthers of punk,” for lack of a better term, starting with The Patti Smith Group performing in various venues (as is true with most of the bands) to the soundtrack of “Gloria (In Excelsis Deo)” off the Horses album, followed by a live version of “We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together.” It would make sense to start off with her group since they were considered the first “punk” band to be recorded…though I do wonder who filmed the footage since not only was Kral in the band, but there are shots of him playing. Anyway…

The Ramones

Other major bands flow into each other visually, with the songs starting abruptly. That’s no issue at all, though I thought it would be good to have some kind of crawl that said which band was which, rather than just waiting until the end credits. But that’s punk, do what’s unexpected, right? Patti flows into Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel (Parts I and II)” (with a shot of Terry Ork for good measure, who released the single on his own Ork Records), and then to theRamones playing over only live recordings as their seminal eponymous album had not yet been released. It was interesting to hear them doing a song that would show up on their second album. Then there are the likes of Talking Heads

Wayne County

The second section is the next level of bands, or first-level Max’s groups, such as the trendsetting Wayne County, The Miamis, Harry Toledo, the Marbles (one of my favorites back then, doing almost a music video), the Shirts, and Tuff Darts (with Robert Gordon).

The third is an odd mix of non-venue related footage (though the music concept stays the same) of bands such as backstage. There is also the post-Thunders/Jerry Nolan New York Dolls that focuses only on David Johansen while “Funky But Chic” plays, and there is the Hell version of the Heartbreakers to end it with the title song. The Dolls were kind of the midwife to the New York punk scene, and the Hell version of the Heartbreakers almost the transition into the now more infamous version of the band.

I’m proud to say I have seen all of these bands perform live save two (Miamis and Tuff Darts, though I did interview the founder and lead guitarist, Jeff Salen). When I first saw the film at its premiere, I was a bit flustered by the dissonance between the footage and the sound, but over the years, I have come to admire it. Many of the songs are not shown all the way through (cut short or edited), but it just means more songs. The film is a treasure.

IMDB listing HERE 



Thursday, May 5, 2022

THE MARBLES – For Rockers of All Ages (1977)

 © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 1977/2022
Images from the Internet unless indicated

When I started to collect pieces for the second issue of FFanzeen, I decided to begin with a band I enjoyed: The Marbles were an amazingly entertaining band. Their sound was a unique combination of power-pop / rock’n’roll that they made their own.

I was a fan of the group and saw them often, sharing bills with bands like Television, Mong, the Mumps, and Milk & Cookies (another personal power pop fave). And yes, they shared the bill with the infamous CBGB AC/DC show, which was Bon Scott’s last New York performance, to which I was present (the enclosed pictures by me here are from that night).

The musicians had similar pageboy hairstyles and looked very boy-next-door, in fresh pressed white shirts and slacks. Their main power lay in their songs, which were hard-hitting, killer pop tunes, fueled by Howard Bowler’s lead guitar and bolstered by Eric Li’s keyboard. This is evidenced especially in their first single, on Ork Records, “Red Lights” b/w “Fire and Smoke” (“Red Lights” was also included on ROIR’s excellent Singles cassette collection). Eventually they would come out with another single, “Forgive and Forget” b/w “Computer Cards.” Unfortunately, these two 45s represent all the existing officially released catalog of the Marbles. What happened to the tapes they refer to in the interview following is a mystery. According to their ex-manager, Alan Betrock (d. 2000), they no longer exist. It’s a shame, because they had some killer tunes, like “Closing Me Down,” “She’s Cool,” “Jealousy,” “She’s Pleased,” and especially the bouncy “You Tomorrow.” Live versions of many of these songs can be found online. After all this time, I still remember the tunes to many of these songs. Despite being a pop band, they also had a snotty attitude, which help them fit into the scene.

I was fascinated with Jim Clifford’s bass, and bass playing style. It was Clifford’s bass that made me first notice the Rickenbacker brand. I couldn’t figure out how anyone could play a bass with a neck that long. I was also amazed at his technique, which I have rarely seen since. Rather than just bending his wrist around the bass and curling his finger to play the frets, his wrists were turned at an almost ninety-degree angle so the fingers were nearly straight. I tried duplicating it, but couldn’t come close.

This interview was published in FFanzeen No. 2, dated October 31, 1977.

The Marbles – For Rockers of All Ages

The Marbles are really one of the better bands around now-a-days. I have been a fan of theirs for a few years now and have caught their act whenever I could. Recently they went on vacation. When they left, they were very good, but now, they are just great. I had to interview them, and below is the outcome.

It was a hot night when I visited the Marbles’ loft, that last day of August 1977. The entire band, Howard Bowler (guitar, vocals), Jim Clifford (bass, vocals), Eric Li (keyboards, vocals) and David Bowler (drums, vocals), was present:

FFanzeen: How did the first single (“Red Lights”) sell?
Jim Crawford: There were 1,500 copies made at the most, and they all sold out.
David Bowler: We’re negotiating for a re-pressing.

FFanzeen: How did Terry Ork [d. 2004] approach you to do the record?
Jim: Over a joint.
David: He got us our first gig at CBGB on the same bill as the Ramones. And I work at Cinemabilia [with Ork]
Howard Bowler: He likes the band. He wanted to do a single … and he was picking bands he wanted to record. He started with Television
[“Little Johnny Jewel, Parts 1 and 2” – RBF, 2022]. The second was …
Eric Li: Hell. Richard Hell
[“Blank Generation” b/w “Another World”  – RBF, 2022].
David: Then we came out.
Jim: Then he went berserk.
Howard: And we haven’t seen him since

FFanzeen: His next single is going to be with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. [Note: either this never happened or was not released – RBF, 2022]
Jim: Yeah? The New Wave bands have to make a splash with the critics.

FFanzeen: Are you satisfied with the single?
Jim: No. The master recording we did for Terry Ork was very clear; you could hear every instrument. You could hear the vocals: ... We’re satisfied with our performance on the record. There’s a lot of energy on that record, but as far as the actual pressing and mastering of the record, it was done – well, face it, Terry Ork doesn’t have that much money to work with. He tried the best he could but with the things he was using, the best is very sub-standard. Plus, this was one of the first recordings he put out, so he was still experimenting with different pressing companies. And unfortunately, the ones he experimented with us were really crummy. I mean, the first press cuttings of the single came back and it wasn’t even printed on the record straight. You’d put on the needle and it would speed up and slow down. It wasn’t on the central axis. The second one had a skip on it that was printed on the record. And five test pressings later, we finally decided to just go ahead with it. The third test pressing sounded like there were five thousand mosquitoes in the room. We were not satisfied with the sound quality, but we were satisfied with the energy. We like the record. The songs come through anyway.
Eric: After the last pressing, we just got so disgusted we just said, “Go ahead with it,” ‘cause it was just taking so long.
Howard: We had planned to release it in September, and by the time we were finished, it was January when it was released.
David: Now it’s over a year old to us and we know we could do it better.
Jim: Anyway, we’re gonna put out a new one now.
Eric: That’s the main thing.
Jim: I don’t know if it’s gonna be by Ork or not, but we’re going to record a new single, “Free World” and “Love Today.”

FFanzeen: Are they new songs?
Howard: No, they’re about a year old now, but they’re very mature, and ripe for recording them. One of the songs is sort of a political statement, “Free World.” “Love Today” is, well, a love song about “every-man.”
Jim: It’s a revolutionary single. You have never heard a single like this.
David: Next question.

Eric Li (ffoto by Robert Barry Francos)

FFanzeen: I was going to ask if you were satisfied with the way Ork promoted the single, but …
David: He didn’t do any promotion, so we’re very satisfied.
Eric: We did about what we expected.
David: No, really. He told all his friends.
Jim: Well, actually, they sold out so we can’t be unimpressed. He only pressed 1,500 copies, and the fact that it was an Ork record and we were a part of the New York rock scene. We were just so disappointed in the sound quality, that before he printed any more, we wanted it pressed at a different place. He has to come up with the money to do that before we’ll go ahead with it. (We) want to do it, but it’s just a matter of getting the monkey wrench out of the works.

FFanzeen: Was “Jailbait” recorded at the same time?
Howard: Yeah.
David: There were two others. “From Me For You” and “Closing Me Down.” All recorded at Douglaston.

FFanzeen: Will you release those?
Jim: No, actually those will be burned.
Eric: We’re thinking of changing the B-side to “Jailbait.”

FFanzeen: When was the last time you played together publicly?
David: Our last New York job was four months earlier.
Jim: In May
Howard: We took a summer break. We went to Minneapolis. And we played there three nights.
David: It was great. Parties every night. Encores every night.
Eric: Unqualified success.
Jim: Everyone liked us a lot.
Howard: The bar owner there did the best he had ever done, and they want us back. That’s part of this tour. The reason we set up this tour is because we did so well in July when we played there and he asked us back in October, and we figured if we’re going out there in October, this time let’s make some money, so we want to have jobs stopping off in Cleveland and Ann Arbor. We have connections for a few jobs on the way out and hopefully on our way back. And we’ll be playing. That’s another thing.

Eric Li, David Bowler, Jim Craford, partial Howard Bowler
(ffoto by Robert Barry Francos)

FFanzeen: Did you enjoy your vacation?
Eric: Oh, yeah!
Howard: It was great.

FFanzeen: Why did you take a break?
Jim: Because we couldn’t get a job in New York. Summer in New York is so hot, and Hilly [Kristal, of CBGB] at that point was not really excited about hiring us. We didn’t want to play at Max’s because – eh – we just didn’t want to play there. And the summer here was just very dead.
David: We had to get our heads together.
Eric: We just wanted a break. We needed a vacation and it was really fun.
David: We kept on rehearsing, we worked on our material, and we were going through managerial problems that was taking up a lot of our attention.

FFanzeen: That was Alan Betrock?
Jim: Boy, you leave no stone unturned. Next question.

FFanzeen: How did you get to play at the ECHO convention (two years ago)?
David: Our first manager [Betrock] got us the convention. Next question.

FFanzeen: OK, I'll pass on that one. Never let it be said I couldn’t take a hint.
Jim: He’s a fine rock writer.

FFanzeen: What do you call what you play?
Jim: Music. Definitely music.
Howard: Noise with a sprinkling of screaming. No, I call it Alfred.
David: Marbles Music Mania.
Jim: It’s hard to classify us. We’re somewhere between AM and FM, whatever that means.
Howard: Nirvana.

FFanzeen: What do you think of some of the other New York bands?
Howard: We like the Mumps. I like the Heartbreakers. I like the Voidoids, despite their music. I used to like Television. Blondie’s gotten better. Patti Smith is dead. She was great.
Jim: That about covers it.
Howard: You see, the bands that we listen to are not the so-called New Wave bands that have cropped up in the last eight months. Teenage Jesus, the Cramps. They’re just awful. There's a fundamental philosophy that if you get on stage with an instrument, you should know how to play it.
Jim: I just find it boring. I have no place in my mind for the thoughts those people have.
David: I mean, what does it mean to be “cramped?”

FFanzeen: If you had a choice, what band would you choose to play with?
Jim: Marbles and Mumps are the strongest. Actually, the Rolling Stones.

FFanzeen: What are your ultimate goals?
Jim: To be the first rock band on the moon.
David: First goal is Number One single, ten gold albums.
Jim: Right now, my ultimate goal is to have enough money to buy a TV set. We’d like to tour Europe. I don’t know. Just to be rich and famous. To have fun. Pleasure. Eat a lot of beans. I want to be a major political force: ... for the youth of America. We want to lead America out of the depression. To give people something to believe in again.
David: We want to put rock music back on the map.

FFanzeen: What kind of fan is a Marbles fan?
David: Beautiful. Female. Eighteen.

(At this time, Jim got up to show me something and accidentally knocked my tape recorder off the table, and being consistent, my tape recorder stopped taping).

The publishing of this interview, in part, may have led to the dissolving of the band. At a time when CBGB and Max’s were the two key places in the city to play, the Marbles were considered a CB’s band. And from this interview, you can tell that not only did they insult Max’s, they were not on Hilly Kristal’s A-list either. At the time this interview was completed, the Cramps were CBGB’s Number One house-band. A week after this issue came out, the Marbles were booked to open for, who else, the Cramps. The story I heard is that when the Cramps read the interview, they told Hilly it’s “them or us.” Of course, Hilly went with the money (who wouldn’t) and blackballed the Marbles.

Having burned their bridges with Max’s, there really was no decent venue for them, and they could either move out of the city or dissolve. For a long time, I felt guilty for printing their comments about the Cramps, but in retrospect, I did not ask the Marbles about specific bands, they spoke up voluntarily, and on the record.

The band was very antagonistic in the interview. They were fresh and just back from vacation, excited about their material, and yet they were bitter about the whole scene. Others who have worked with Terry Ork were disappointed in his production, management of the promotion, and especially his handling of the cash, so that’s understandable. David told me years later, with some chagrin, that they were “young and arrogant.”

After Clifford left the band (he became a teacher in Minneapolis), they broke up, and then reformed with the late Richie Lurie (who would eventually join the Waldos with brother Walter Lure), calling themselves the Volts. I had the chance to catch them on February 13, 1981, at the long-since-gone Botany Talk House (Sixth Avenue and 27 Street).

When that ended, as David later explained to me, “Eric, Howard and I formed a production company called Atomic Records, and began writing and producing records for other artists. In 1988, we had a number one dance record with Denise Lopez, whom we had signed on to A&M. During this time, unbeknown to Howard and me, Eric developed a drug habit. Our record actually went Top 40 with … Denise Lopez, and we did two LPs for A&M Records [Truth in Disguise in 1988, and Every Dog Has Her Day in 1990 – RBF, 2022]. At any rate, Eric didn't show up at rehearsal for a few days and we knew something was up. So, I went to his apartment and found him. He'd been dead about 2 days.”

In the early 2000s, the Bowler brothers formed a new band called Contraband, leaning more towards a roots/folk rock sound. I have since regained contact with them and have even taken some publicity photos, including one that is incorporated in their second CD.