'Blank Generation' benefit screening to revisit early history of punk rock
A rare screening of the landmark film “Blank Generation,” which documents the rise of punk rock in New York in the 1970s, will be held at the Michigan Theater Thursday as a benefit for the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County.
Filmmaker Ivan Kral, a Czechoslovakia native who lives in the Ann Arbor area, will be on hand to introduce to movie and answer questions. The film includes rare footage of the Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, Patti Smith, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Television and others performing at legendary nightclub CBGB.
Image courtesy Blank Generation, LLC
Kral, who played guitar, bass and keyboards with the Patti Smith Group for its first four albums and co-wrote many of the group’s early songs, said he had no eye toward posterity when he was shooting the footage that later became “Blank Generation.” Rather, he feared being deported and wanted the images to show his friends back home. He picked up a used Bolex camera — the kind that had to be wound up — at a pawn shop in Manhattan, and let it roll.
“If you’ve been around rehearsals and performances of bands in clubs, there is so much time to be doing other things,” he recalled. “The main reason I was doing it in 1974-’75 was I wasn’t a citizen yet. I was under constant fear I was going to be deported. My dad spoke against the 1968 invasion of the Eastern Bloc by the Soviet Union; he was on the run from the KGB and had to be guarded. I always thought maybe our whole family would have to move back to Czechoslovakia. I wanted to share these things with my friends and the band I had as a kid.”
He never dreamed he was recording history.
“I had all these three-minute rolls of film, one day I decided I had enough to make it into 50 minutes, I spliced it together in one day.”
The film was recently digitized, Kral said, by the Farmington Hills-based company Grace & Wild.
“(Steve Wild) was kind enough to make it really crisp and beautiful looking. I had a beat-up 16mm positive of the film,” he said. “We showed it at a festival in Chicago, and we showed it at a festival in Toronto. This will be the premiere of the digitally remastered version at the Michigan Theater.
“It’s wonderful to be able to do something for the shelter,” he added. “It makes you feel real good to be doing something for the community.”
Prior to the film screening, the Shelter Association will host a fundraising reception in the Michigan Theater’s Grand Foyer from 5:30-6:30 p.m. (The reception requires separate tickets, which will be sold directly through the Shelter Association’s Development Office). Several guest celebrities are expected to be on hand, including Detroit rocker Mitch Ryder, local harmonizers The Chenille Sisters, SRC guitarist Gary Quackenbush, Cult Heroes vocalist Hiawatha, Ann Arbor guitarist/songwriter Dick Siegel and rock photographer Leni Sinclair.
Diana Neering, the Shelter Association’s development director, said her goal is to mainly raise the group’s community profile.
“A lot of this is just to get our name out in front of a different group of people,” she said. “We’re going to reach an audience that normally wouldn’t know us.”
“It’s unusual, no question about it,” she said of the event. “We have a great friend in (local businessman) John Carver; he knows Ivan and thought it would be an interesting opportunity for the Shelter.”
Carver owned the downtown Ann Arbor nightclub Second Chance in the 1970s, where Kral would often perform with Patti Smith.
Kral said he has great memories of performing at the Second Chance.
“I remember playing with the Sonic Rendezvous Band,” he remembered. “It was the loudest club — I couldn’t believe how loud we were!”
Roger LeLievre is a free-lance writer who covers music for AnnArbor.com.
Watch a clip from "Blank Generation":