Saturday, November 29, 2008

Downtown 81

I’ve never been one to indulge in nostalgia—never understood people who thought that the best music just happened to exist at the very moment they were in college—however, when Roberto got Downtown 81, from Netflix, I allowed myself to wallow just a bit. Especially after listening to the 9/2/08 NPR: All Songs Considered podcast (a good way to keep up if you’re past college age) entitled “The 80s: Were they really that bad?” Funny, I’ve never lived in a time when I thought the music was bad—and especially not the 80s—but then I didn’t listen to radio. Anyway, “Downtown 81” is an Andy Warhol-ish film written by an Andy Warhol-ish guy, Glenn O’Brien, and not so much a story as an excuse to follow the adorable Jean-Michel Basquiat around for a day. (Best line: “You can sleep in my car. It’s a Coupe de Ville.”) There’s an unintentional layer of unreality in that the voices sound dubbed—and that’s because they are dubbed, the original audio for the film having been lost long ago. However the best parts are the performance segments (see? It wasn’t the drugs; the music really was great): Kid Creole and the Coconuts, and James White and the Blacks (a.k.a. James Chance and the Contortions).

Here’s the trailer for the film (as it was recreated in 2000):

And the best Kid Creole video I found, from a concert in Cologne (the clip in the film is even better):

And sound, no visual, for James White/Chance (you gotta see him in the film):

In these over-stimulated times "Downtown 81" isn’t a film to watch, exactly, but—as Roberto suggested—have on while you’re doing something else. The one to sit down with, of course, is Julian Schnabel’s 1996 Basquiat, the only film I can think of (outside of High Fidelity) that captures the spirit of a time and place I lived in as I remember it.

Meanwhile the free-wheeling uninhibited nature of the music isn't totally confined to reminiscence but lives on in current bands such as The Rapture, whose exuberant live show is one of the best yet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was a kid during this era I'm gonna get this film