His film is a punk classic, but the credits now roll without him

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Thursday, June 20, 2024

His film is a punk classic, but the credits now roll without him
The director Amos Poe in New York, May 26, 2020. Poe lost control of his documentary about the music scene that spawned artists like Blondie and Talking Heads after a dispute with Ivan Kral, the guitarist who made the movie with him. Daniel Arnold/The New York Times.

by Cara Buckley

NEW YORK (NYT NEWS SERVICE).- The film, raw and grainy and shot in black and white, is 54 minutes long. It opens with Patti Smith in silhouette, haloed by her raggedy hair, and the snarling opening lyrics to her anthemic song “Gloria.”

Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.

Made by Amos Poe and his good friend Ivan Kral, a guitarist for Smith, the film compiled footage of Richard Hell, Smith, Blondie, Talking Heads and the Ramones into a feature called “The Blank Generation,” named after one of Hell’s caterwauling songs.

It premiered in 1976 at CBGB, where much of it was filmed, to a built-in appreciative crowd and later secured midnight screenings in cities like Cincinnati, San Francisco and Toronto. Although it never rose to cult status, the movie is nonetheless a classic in the punk pantheon, a signature No Wave film that captured a fleeting time when an eye-popping number of future rock stars were lean and hungry unknowns.

So it made sense last fall when “The Blank Generation” screened at the Roxy Cinema, a jewel box of a theater just off Canal Street in New York, that the cinema’s curator, Illyse Singer, invited Poe, whom she calls “the godfather of indie cinema in New York,” to the event.

But as the film rolled, Poe realized that something was wrong. New segments had been added. Others scrapped. The ending — of Lenny Kaye, Smith’s longtime bandmate, grinning into the camera as the door to CBGB swings shut behind him — had been swapped for a minidocumentary about his partner, Kral, followed by the words, “Directed by Cindy Hudson” — Kral’s widow.

The opening placard displaying Poe’s and Kral’s names were gone. In fact, Poe’s name wasn’t anywhere on the film.

In that moment, Poe realized he had completely lost control of a film that, beyond its role as a chronicle of music history, was very much the pivot point for his entire life.

“I’m trying to be grown up about it,” said Poe, who is 70. “But they’re trying to rewrite history.”

Hell and Heaven on the Bowery
The place stank of vomit and stale beer. Of course it did — it was CBGB — but Poe didn’t know what that meant back in 1974, when he made his first visit.

Poe, a few years from becoming a pioneering filmmaker in downtown’s No Wave Cinema, an underground movement of guerrilla-style films, had been invited by a clerk at Poe’s favorite cinephile shop to check out his band down on the Bowery.

So one night, Poe found himself venturing past panhandling winos into a club so fetid and grimy his nerves jumped on end. Two dozen souls languished inside, most of them belligerent and drunk. Eventually Poe’s buddy, the clerk, shuffled onstage. His name was Hell, his band was called Television, and after they started playing, one of the drunks, annoyed at the disturbance, spat at Hell. And to Poe’s astonishment, Hell spat right back.

Poe was entranced.

It was around that time that he met Kral, a film buff and rock-and-roller whose family had fled Soviet Czechoslovakia. Poe had immigrated from Israel in 1958 and worshipped Jean-Luc Godard and Robert Bresson, and he and Kral hit it off. Poe was no edgy punk, though, and Kral was his entry point into the music scene.

“Ivan made Amos cool,” Kral’s first wife, Lynette Kral, said.

Kral had already been filming his musician friends, largely because he feared deportation back to Czechoslovakia and wanted his memories preserved. Poe said the pair gathered footage of David Bowie, Queen and Roxy Music into a short picture called “Night Lunch,” and as glam music gave way to something more aggressive, they kept shooting, at CBGB and Max’s Kansas City, until they had enough footage to rent the editing suite on Broadway where, fueled by amphetamines and hashish, Poe and Kral cut “The Blank Generation” in 24 hours.

The music was added separately using the bands’ own recordings or demos, and it was out of sync, which Poe said was on purpose — an homage to experimental film. Not everyone got the point.

At midnight screenings in various cities, half the audience kept walking out and demanding their money back. But the people who did stay loved it, which for Poe meant a ton: Nobody was in the middle.

Riffing on Shoots and Onstage
The film was something of a buoy at a time when Poe’s personal life was falling apart. Among the issues, he’d lost a job as a building superintendent. But “The Blank Generation” inspired him to keep going.

Poe jumped into writing and directing his first movie, “Unmade Beds” — a do-it-yourself picture starring his friends Duncan Hannah, Eric Mitchell and Debbie Harry — and followed it with “The Foreigner” and later “Subway Riders,” all DIY features shot on the decrepit streets of New York. Along with fellow filmmakers like Mitchell, James Nares, Vivienne Dick, Jim Jarmusch and Abel Ferrara, Poe became a notable in the No Wave scene and seemed poised to make it big.

“Amos was really inspiring to me as a guerrilla-style filmmaker,” said Jarmusch, one of Poe’s longtime friends. “When I first saw ‘Unmade Beds’ and particularly ‘The Foreigner,’ it really inspired me that I could make a film too.”

By then, Kral was already living his own dream, playing guitar with the Patti Smith Group. Kral had been enthralled by Smith from the moment he had caught one of her searing poetry readings, and in 1974 he bested some 50 other guitarists for a spot in her band.

He played on the group’s first four albums — “Horses,” “Easter,” “Radio Ethiopia” and “Wave” — and wrote songs with Smith, including “Dancing Barefoot.”

“He just became one of us,” Smith said in a Czech biopic about Kral.

Kral told the filmmakers, “At that time, and to this day, there is no woman that could compare to Patti Smith."

But in 1979, as the band’s popularity grew a year after its breakout hit “Because the Night,” Smith abruptly broke up the group on tour in Italy. Kral was heartbroken.

He played for a spell with Iggy Pop and in other bands and later nurtured a solo career in Czechoslovakia but would never regain the career high he’d had with Smith.

The Poe-Kral friendship persevered despite some downturns in their own careers. In 1995, when Smith reunited the band, she did not include Kral for reasons that never became publicly clear. The exclusion crushed Kral, and something else niggled him. U2 released their version of “Dancing Barefoot” as a B-side in 1989, and Kral suspected that he might be owed money. According to people familiar with the matter, sometime after the band regrouped without him, Kral sued Smith, to her great distress. The case ended up settling. (Smith’s representatives did not respond to queries.)

“He ruined all chances of ever being invited for a reunion,” Lynette Kral said.

Yet Kral still wanted to be close to Smith, and in 2006, he enlisted Poe in that effort, asking him to get him on the guest list for the final concert at CBGB. Smith was headlining, and Poe, unaware of the lawsuit, asked the favor of Smith. He remembers her furiously saying no.

Poe went through his own woes as his career as a filmmaker fizzled. In the late 1980s he had signed on to direct a movie he’d written, “Rocket Gibraltar.” It starred Burt Lancaster and was supposed to be his breakout picture, but he was fired from directing because of cost overruns. In the mid-90s he declared bankruptcy.

A Partnership Dissolves
As the years passed, interest in “The Blank Generation” grew in tandem with nostalgia for New York’s grittier past. The film was periodically screened. Television productions licensed footage. Rolling Stone anointed it one of the greatest punk rock films.

To the chagrin of Kral, Poe was often credited as its sole filmmaker. And then there was the money. Poe said he and Kral each had a print of the film that they licensed out and that they had agreed to equally split the earnings. But they did not know what the other was earning, and Kral grew angry because Poe wasn’t sharing his cut, even after Kral demanded an accounting.

Poe said that Kral wasn’t sharing his accounting of his earnings, either, though he concedes that by around 2011 he might have owed his friend up to $8,000 in all.

But Poe said he couldn’t pay. He was consistently broke and was also, by his own admission, “hitting bottom on behaviors I wasn’t very proud of” — namely, “the whole sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll ideology.”

For Kral, the tipping point came in 2011 when a documentary about No Wave Cinema called “Blank City” used licensed footage from “The Blank Generation” and prominently featured Poe as a No Wave auteur. The film made no mention of Kral, aside from Poe referencing him briefly.

After Kral didn’t see a penny from the film, he sued Poe in a Michigan court, claiming, among other grievances, that Poe owed him more than $75,000 and that Poe had been wrongly recognized as the sole filmmaker despite having only edited the film.

“Ivan would’ve preferred to work with Amos on friendly terms,” said Cindy Hudson, Kral’s widow. “But Amos didn’t want to split any of the income that he had over all those years. He did not have any money to pay anything.”

Poe showed up for a deposition in Michigan in 2011 but said that he couldn’t afford a lawyer and that he believed he and Kral could work it all out over the phone.

“I had a real bad attitude. I couldn’t get over my own attitude,” Poe said. “I didn’t look at it just like a business thing. I looked at it as a personal betrayal.”

When the case went to trial, Poe skipped the court date, and the judge found in Kral’s favor, ruling that Poe owed Kral $6,500 in profits from “The Blank Generation” plus nearly $43,000 in lawyers’ fees and other costs. After Poe didn’t pay, the judge ordered that Poe’s copyright interest in “The Blank Generation” be seized and sold to Kral. Early in 2012, the judge ordered that ownership of four of Poe’s films also be sold to Kral (the fee was $10 apiece): “Unmade Beds,” “The Foreigner,” “Subway Riders” and “Empire II.” They are now listed on Kral’s website, which credits Kral as the director of “The Blank Generation” and Poe as co-editor.

That autumn, the judge awarded another $107,000 in legal fees to Kral and issued an order blocking his former partner from presenting scheduled screenings of “The Foreigner” and “Empire II” at the New Museum later that year.

Poe, who worked as an associate professor of film at New York University and then Brooklyn College, said he couldn’t afford the judgment and didn’t pay. In 2018, facing liens and garnished wages related to the lawsuit, he filed for bankruptcy again. Poe also said he offered Kral $35,000 to buy his movies back — money a friend agreed to loan him — but that Kral turned him down.

Poe’s old friends were shocked to learn recently that he had lost ownership of “The Blank Generation.”

“What a farce that anyone else should claim his inspirational film,” Harry, who had appeared in three of Poe’s films, wrote in an email.

Richard Boch, a former doorman at the Mudd Club and a friend of Poe’s, wondered why there had been so much legal wrangling over such a low-earning film. “We’re not talking about a million-dollar property,” Boch said. “We’re talking about an underground film that shows every now and then at an underground film fest or some hipster boutique cinema. Somehow Amos got screwed out of his legacy here.”

Things likely appear very different in the Kral camp. He died this past February, and his widow, Hudson, stopped cooperating with this article after an initial interview.

Poe fears that more changes will be made to “The Blank Generation.” Hudson had said in the initial interview that Kral had wanted to remove the segments that weren’t performance footage.

But she has stayed mum in response to questions about whether more edits might be forthcoming, whether Poe’s name could be restored to the credits, or whether she would consider letting Poe regain a stake in his films.

Her lawyer, Susan Kornfield, said in an email that the revamped version was a new, derivative work and that Poe is not named because, under copyright law, he is not an author.

It was the revamped version that was screened and marketed as “The Blank Generation,” the 1976 classic, in New York last fall.

As a legal matter, Gordon Platt, Poe’s lawyer, agreed that the Kral estate can make the changes it wants to “The Blank Generation,” be it the original or the revamped version, since it now holds the copyrights.

As a practical matter, of course, it’s not quite that simple. Poe still stews inside about skipping that court date all those years ago.

“If I hadn’t been as emotional at the time, it probably wouldn’t have been the same,” Poe said. “I would’ve said, ‘OK, let me deal with it,’ like people do.”

© 2020 The New York Times Company

Today's News

August 1, 2020

An artist having fun while waiting for catastrophe

National Endowment for the Humanities announces new grants

'The Commitments' and 'Evita' director Parker dies aged 76

Christie's Classic Art Evening Sale: Antiquity to 20th Century achieves $27,314,010

The Benjamin Ichinose Collection of Fine and Rare Wines, totaled $2,340,800 with 76 auction records

Bob R. Simpson Part I Auction announced For September 17, 2020

Picasso mural torn from building after years of dispute

Hindman continues to set auction records with fine art and design

Questionnaire filled in by young Oscar Wilde to be auctioned at Sotheby's

Museum der Moderne Salzburg exhibits drawings, watercolors, and paintings by Wilhelm Thöny

Exhibition at The Scottish Gallery celebrates major female artists

His film is a punk classic, but the credits now roll without him

John Koch's Siesta achieves top lot at Bonhams American Art sale

The Baltimore Museum of Art appoints six new members to its board of trustees

Fashion and Textile Museum announces reopening dates

The Black Book Club takes it to the next level

Paris ballet's 'little rats' stay focused as world spins

New opening date for The Box, the UK's biggest new museum

Von Bartha opens Claudia Wieser's first solo show at the gallery's S-chanf space

Modern Art Oxford announces first digital participatory project

Dobby Dobson, versatile Jamaican singer and songwriter, dies at 78

Ahlers & Ogletree has two major estate auctions planned for fall

Chiara Magni brings an ancient technique to modern times

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc

ignaciovillarreal.org juncodelavega.com facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful