Left: Eric Mitchell, Underground U.S.A., 1980, film in 16mm, 85 minutes. Right: James Nares, Game, 1975, still from a black-and-white video, 3 minutes 5 seconds.


THE REVIVAL OF 1970S UNDERGROUND “three-chord” movies continues apace at the IFC Center and Anthology Film Archives in New York. With CÚline Danhier’s randomly informative and completely uncritical documentary Blank City (2010) currently booked for an unlimited run at the IFC, the theater is also showcasing, as part of its ongoing “Short Attention Span” series, moving image work by the film’s most articulate interview subject, James Nares.

The exemplary Renaissance man of ’70s downtown New York, Nares made movies, played guitar (with James Chance in the Contortions and with Jim Jarmusch in the Del-Byzanteens), and staged performances for minuscule audiences in his loft where he also produced sculpture and paintings. Today, he is perhaps best known as a painter, although he has never stopped shooting still and moving photographic work. Ranging across thirty years, the five movies included in the “Short Attention Span” series are lyrical but heady one-liners. Ramp (1975), Hammered (1975), and Drip (2007) are mini documents of sculptural activity, involving the effects of gravity on weighty objects. Game (1976) is like a stoner’s dream—a fast and furious chess game played with very small indistinguishable rocks—while Weather Bed (1990) depicts what might have happened the night before as a slowly gathering tornado in the sheets. Nares’s longest movie, the mostly soporific, occasionally hilarious Rome 78 (1978) which features various Mudd Club denizens stalking around in togas, plays at IFC the weekend of April 8–9 in the midnight movie slot, as does Charlie Ahearn’s livelier Wild Style (1983), an invaluable document of early hip-hop, break-dancing, and graffiti artists.

Unlike Nares, Eric Mitchell, one of the stars of Rome 78, had feature filmmaking ambitions. Anthology Film Archives, which has programmed its own ’70s underground series, is showing two of Mitchell’s riff's on Warhol’s tabloid-inspired talkies, Kidnapped (1978) and Underground, U.S.A. (1980). Both movies are notable for frantic and relentless camera movement and feature downtown luminary Patti Astor, whose attempted Edie Sedgwick imitation is closer to Ingrid Superstar, who herself had created the first and least self-conscious Edie parody. If you only have time for one Mitchell movie, choose Kidnapped. It’s the shorter and purer of the two, and it’s preceded by the bluntly titled, seven-minute Mass Homicide (1977), which will give you a taste of what you’re in for.

Amy Taubin

“The Films of James Nares” runs at the IFC Center in New York through April 21 as part of the theater’s “Short Attention Span” series. Rome 78 and Wild Style play at the IFC Center on Saturday, April 9 at midnight. Films by Eric Mitchell will show at Anthology Film Archives in New York on Saturday April 9 and Sunday April 10. CÚline Danhier’s Blank City opened at the IFC Center on Wednesday, April 6.