Magazine article Artforum International

Same Ol' Samo

Magazine article Artforum International

Same Ol' Samo

Article excerpt

DOWNTOWN 81, A "LOST" No-BUDGET FILM shot on location in Manhattan some nineteen years ago, finally had its debut last month, at Cannes. Directed by Edo Bertoglio and written by Glenn O'Brien, this lighthearted document of the East Village scene stars a twenty-year-old Jean-Michel Basqulat as himself, with countless hipster cameos, including hip-hop pioneer Fab Five Freddie, '80s Fiorucci designer (and the film's producer) Maripol, record-label guy Marty Thau, and Blondie chanteuse Debbie Harry as the fairy princess.

But the real star of the film is the gritty milieu of a New York long gone. A lot has happened in nineteen years. Now that the Lower East Side has become something of an Epcot simulacrum of itself, it's hard not to feel nostalgic for Ye Olde Loisaida's antique bohemian realities: brazen dope dealers, trash-strewn lots connecting burned-out buildings, artist-musician inhabitants lugging their own equipment to gigs.

From Blowup (1966) to After Hours (1985), most dramatic flicks that feature live music tease you with a few seconds of footage, and then they're back to characters, plot, blah blah blah. If one could only luxuriate in those scenes--see more of the Yardbirds, say, or Bad Brains at the height of their powers. Downtown 81, in contrast, dotes on Arto Lindsay's pounding, strangely melodic "no wave" power trio, DNA; Cool Kyle's hip-hop rhymes; James White & the Blacks' herky-jerky big band avant-funk; Kid Creole and the Coconuts' stage show, which makes Bette Midler look tasteful; Tuxedomoon's brooding proto electro-pop; and quirky Japanese New Wavers the Plastics, whose music may not have aged very well but who sure are cool to look at for one song. …

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