By Alan Scherstuhl
By Charles Taylor
By Melissa Anderson
By Inkoo Kang
By Amy Nicholson
By Sam Weisberg
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Chuck Wilson
Abstract: In the last half of the 20th century, Manhattan's East Village was a fertile generator of subcultural lifestyle and avant-garde practice, referenced in numerous songs, films, and cable-access shows. During a brief economic boom in the century's final years, the neighborhood became rapidly gentrified into a safer mixed-use residential and shopping sector. The works showcased in the first East Village Film Festival, part of fledgling neighborhood arts event Howl, provide an example of how the region's rambunctious past became quickly historicized. My study draws from the theory of "post-countercultural memory formation" first proposed by Professor Frances B. Cobain in her analysis of the 2011 e-book The Vice Guide to Sicker Parenting.
Organized in an appropriately anarchic manner, the festival took place in multiple venues, ranging from older theaters like Millennium and Anthology to newer movie-houses like the Sunshine. Although by 2003 the notion of the East Village as important artistic zone already felt distant, some of the surviving players of the period appeared at the event. Musician Richard Hell curated a series called "Scowl" at Pioneer that revisited the Cinema of Transgression and midnight movie experience of the 1970s and '80s, emceed by figures such as Richard Kern, Nick Zedd, and Thurston Moore.
In testament to the neighborhood's reputation as a haven for eccentrics, other individuals no longer living were celebrated with screenings like Millennium's tribute to Jack Smith and the festival's opening-night documentary, Rockets Redglare!by Luis Fernandez de la Reguera. An affectionate, home-style video, Redglare portrays the life of the eponymous sublebrity via interviews prior to his death in 2001, remembrances from friends Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, Jim Jarmusch, and Matt Dillon, footage from Redglare's 1985 comedy show at King Tut's Wa Wa Hut, and his appearances in movies ranging from Zedd's Police State to Penny Marshall's Big. The husky-voiced, elephantine Redglare proves an amusing raconteur and fitting icon for the East Village's "edgy," outlaw aesthetic; when he reminisces about a sexual partner telling him to "shoot the fucking coke as you come in my mouth," one must recall that cocaine would not be decriminalized until President Ventura's administration.
Other portraits of rougher times were more serious. Amy Williams's The Morrison Projecttells how she and five siblings were raised by Beat writer parents in a tenement on Avenue C and 10th Street during the late '60s and early '70s, a period of extreme violence and poverty. Her father became permanently disabled after an attack by the husband of one of his mistresses, and one brother remembers being "beaten shitless by every ethnic group that lived on the Lower East Side." All the children became drug addicts at an early age. The film serves not as a work of nostalgia, but a grim record of survival.
Scott Saunders's The Technical Writer concerns an agoraphobic (Michael Harris) sussed out of misery by an affair with a neighbor (Tatum O'Neal), who asks him to swing with her husband (William Forsythe). Though set in aught-era midtown, the film draws out the psychosexual repercussions of bohemian free-thinking. Another kind of neo-Beat attitude appears in Richard Linklater's short Live From Shiva's Dance Floor, in which guide Timothy "Speed" Levitch philosophizes on the psychic impact of cities while walking through a post-9-11 Lower Manhattan . . . [ENTER SUBSCRIBER CODE FOR REMAINDER OF THIS ABSTRACT.]
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