15 June 2007 | laurencefrommer
Noirish Love letter to a pre-gentrification East Village bohemia
Philip Hartman's "No Picnic", described as "a cinematic love letter to a pre-gentrification New York City,". The movie was originally filmed in 1985, then released two years later,in 1987. Effectively shot in fat-grained monochrome 16mm (by experimental filmmaker Peter Hutton, it won the cinematography award at Sundance in 1987. A notable soundtrack includes The Raunch Hands, Lenny Kaye, Charles Mingus, Fela Kuti, Richard Hell, Student Teachers and others.
It is the story of a failed musician Macabee Cohen (played by David Brisbin)who earns his living servicing neighborhood Juke Box's while on a quest to find his dream woman. Gentrification is distressingly and increasingly apparent all around him,and underscores his own "has been/never was" status.(If he feels desperate in 1985,Hindsite is even more cruel as we the 2007 viewng audience know that he hasn't yet seen the arrival of Barnes & Noble, Kmart, much less Starbucks!)
Our would be Hero carries on in grainy black and white with noirish,ironic downer interior monologue,"In our neck of the woods, the more things change, the more things change," he narrates, over shots of shuttered storefronts clad in real estate signs. He isn't able to take momentary retreat into the illusion of reveling in the playground of Rebel Hipster Cool-Kids,as it's all just claustrophobic as he continuously bumps into reminders of his humiliation such as people who remember him from his long-defunct punk band, likewise any traditional senes of success or meaningful connection is thwarted as he runs into: the guy from high school who married the girl he wanted,and a woman he thinks he may have gotten pregnant-yet has no bond with or confirmation.
Around the corner on the Bowery his father operates an embarrassingly tacky furniture store with the equally un-stylish manHe can't even retreat to an old fashioned embrace of the "Bosom of the American Family.You.can Always Go Home To"that is now his lover,-thus simultaneously thwarting any romantic retreat into 1950's Family nor fantasy of a "sexual outlaw" for a Dad....and leaving the narrator with a lonely LongIsland mother to boot.
It has a time capsule cast that features Luis Guzman, Richard Hell, and Steve Buscemi.It also has an appearance by noted East Village forbear, Judith Malina. Here's where the 20 years later hindsight of todays viewing audience can perhaps be redemptive. Malina is herself a symbol of endurence,with the year 2007 return to the Lower East Side of her legendary Living Theatre (on her 80th birthday!)She is working with a whole new generation of young idealists who can somehow exist amongst the chain stores and tenements turned into expensive luxury condo's.