Nightclubbing (Directors: Emily Armstrong and Pat Ivers, USA, 1975-1980): After seeing Wasted Orient (review), I’d planned to leave the NFB Cinema to see Kurt Cobain: About A Son, but when I found out what the next screening was, I immediately changed my plans. Directors Emily Armstrong and Pat Ivers have documented more than 100 bands from the New York punk and No Wave scenes from 1975-1980. They videotaped shows for broadcast on a cable access programme called Nightclubbing and the film is a rough assemblage of 25 performances from that archive. They’re working on a documentary which will incorporate present-day interviews with many musicians from the scene, and we got to see a short excerpt from that after their Q&A. Since they’ve been touring this particular collection of clips since at least 2000, I hope we’ll see a DVD release before the end of the decade.

I’ll start by stating the obvious. The video and audio quality of these clips is horrendous. Many were captured on primitive equipment and were never meant to be preserved. That being said, it’s mesmerizing to witness some of these early performances, most of which were filmed at either the late, lamented CBGB’s or at the Danceteria. Here are just a few highlights:

  • a three-piece Talking Heads performing “Psycho Killer” in December 1975, well before the song was recorded.
  • a 1980 clip of Pylon, whom I’d never heard of before. Conservatively-dressed singer Vanessa Ellison’s performance builds from a near-whisper to a sort of twitchy crescendo. Fascinating.
  • a 1979 clip of the Bad Brains covering Wire’s “12XU”.
  • Iggy Pop singing “New Values” in 1979. Unfortunately, the vocals are buried, but Iggy does some of his trademark stage moves.
  • The Dead Boys performing with Divine at a benefit for their drummer, who had been stabbed in a knife fight and who had no medical insurance.
  • a very early Blondie performance of the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” from 1975.
  • there really was quite a bit of saxophone in many of these bands, for better or worse. This brought home the joke behind L.A. hardcore band Fear’s song “New York’s Alright If You Like Saxophones”.
  • a 1980 spoken-word performance by Max Blagg about the evils of heroin, which had ravaged the scene by this time.

Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s book Please Kill Me: An Uncensored Oral History of Punk has been one of my favourite books for a long time now, and seeing these clips really added another dimension to that whole fascinating story.

The only drawback to my viewing experience was that I was sitting next to two old rockers who talked loudly thoughout both the film and the Q&A afterward. So, for me it was just like being at a real rock show in that sense.

The directors conducted a very informal Q&A afterward, and you can just tell they have a million stories they want to share. I hope the finished form of this film can pack even a few of them in.

A review of a screening from 2000.


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