CLAYTON PATTERSON: CAPTURED Documentary by BEN SOLOMON, DANIEL LEVIN, and JENNER FURST
Blowback and Ben Vs Dan Productions | New York | 2008 | 85 min
PLOT:CAPTURED is the story of one man's commitment to chronicling the legendary Lower East Side, and the individuals who define it. Since the early 1980s Clayton Patterson has been fully dedicated to documenting the final era of this historic and eclectic neighborhood long known for its humble streets, revolutionary minds and creative influence. He has obsessively recorded its many faces: from drag to hardcore, heroin to homelessness, political chaos to gentrification. CAPTURED profiles Patterson's odyssey from voyeur to provocateur, and from activist to renegade archivist. This fast-paced documentary includes Patterson's rare and renowned footage of the Tompkins Square police riots, and provides a close-up look at a fascinating character and chapter of urban culture.
FILMTHREAD by DAVID FINKELSTEIN: "Captured," a dynamic and captivating documentary by Ben Solomon and Dan Levin, is a dual portrait of a neighborhood, the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and the man obsessed with documenting its history, Clayton Patterson. "You could be anyone you wanted on the Lower East Side," explains Patterson, talking about the pull of the neighborhood in the 1980s as a place where people came to explore alternative identities: skinhead, gay, artist, junkie. Patterson, a fearless photographer and videographer, is happiest photographing in highly dangerous situations: drug deals, mosh pits, riots. "This is a revolutionary tool. Little Brother is watching Big Brother," he says of the camcorder, referring to its usefulness as a legal and documentary tool for ordinary people.
Much of the film takes on an elegiac tone, as it emphasizes the way that relentless building of new luxury high-rise buildings is destroying the character of the neighborhood as a haven for personal experimentation. (The film was made before the current fiscal disaster called a halt to the development.) This, of course, only underscores the crucial significance of Patterson's ►documentation of this remarkable time and place, a conflux of creativity perhaps only equaled in legend by the stories of Paris between the wars.
We also meet Elsa Rensaa, Patterson's wife and artistic partner. She defines herself as the person who keeps trying to create a filing system for the immense archive of photos and videotapes. "But I keep failing." Presumably, she fails not because of her lack of organizational skills, which are formidable, but because of the sheer scale of the material, and the lack of any funding or help.
We see Patterson's documentations of the highly transgressive behavior which characterized the neighborhood, such as a performance art on stage, biting the head off of a live rodent and then having what looks like an epileptic fit. Patterson takes snapshots of a diverse mixture of whites, latinos, blacks, Ukrainians, and many other ethnicities, from every conceivable class and cultural background. We meet important neighborhood artists such as Jim Powers, who decorated much of the neighborhood lampposts and sidewalks with his tile mosaics.
A transplant from Western Canada, Patterson arrived in the neighborhood in 1979. (Like many of the inhabitants, he went there on an artistic and personal quest.) He ended making a living for much of the time by selling his designer baseball caps, embroidered with skulls and other whimsical, hip symbols. The baseball caps where a way of ►exporting and selling the culture of the neighborhood in a small, portable form, and they were amazingly successful.
Patterson extensively documented the backstage glamor of the vibrant drag performance scene of the Pyramid Club, and, even more astonishingly, the close and peaceful coexistence of the gays with the macho skinheads, who served as Security for the club. The creative visual explosion of the costumes, wigs, and makeup created by the drag performers is phenomenal to watch. We see as well Patterson's documentation of the closing of CBGB's with a show by the ►Bad Brains. He documents the deadly effects of heroin, AIDS, and poverty. He shows how the squatter movement was a serious attempt to address homelessness, as well as a playground for rebellious kids from the suburbs. He films a community board ►meeting where anarchists, homeless people, and the yuppies who want to gentrify the neighborhood are all literally screaming at each other and physically attacking each other. Especially impressive to me was the seething hatred of the yuppies, and their drive to completely annihilate the lives of poorer neighborhood residents.
The film's climax is the police-instigated riot of August 6th, 1988, in which the tent city of homeless people in Tompkins Square Park was attacked. A night-long battle ensued, with the cops actually finally retreating in defeat. Rensaa plays a key support role in documenting the riot, running back and forth to their apartment with newly recharged batteries and fresh videotapes. Apparently, her quieter presence drew no attention from the cops, and she was able to keep taping while the cops argued with and arrested Patterson. The tapes provide graphic evidence of the completely out of control actions of the cops. We also see squatters, at the end of the night, triumphantly trashing the Christadora, one of the first luxury buildings to be created next to the park, and a contentious symbol of gentrification.
Patterson was famously jailed and went on a hunger strike, because of his refusal to turn his tapes over to the City. (He eventually came to an agreement with them, whereby he provided them with copies of the tapes.) His tapes resulted in numerous cops being fired and disciplined for their actions, something that almost certainly would never have occurred without the crucial evidence he had held on to. Patterson was arrested 13 times in the chaos that ensued for the rest of the summer, as the tent city was dismantled, amidst constant confrontations.
The film shows how the Giuliani administration systematically eliminated poor people and radicals, along with drug users, from the neighborhood, paving the way for the complete victory of the rich, which as we know was the fate of the Lower East Side. 9/11 is shown as a key event, transforming a city where the cops "couldn't shut down a 10 acre park" to one where they can "shut down the entire city," using the specter of terrorism as an excuse for the loss of civil liberties. In a typical example of Patterson's ability to get along with absolutely every kind of person, the filmmakers bring a local cop, Patterson's nemesis for many years, into the archive inside his home, where he shows him the huge collection of photos he has taken of him and the other cops.
FILM BUFF ON DEMAND | Since 1979 Clayton Patterson has dedicated his life to documenting the final era of raw creativity and lawlessness in New York City's Lower East Side, a neighborhood famed for art, music and revolutionary minds. Traversing the outside edge he's recorded a dark and colorful society, from drag to hardcore, heroin, homelessness, political chaos and ultimately gentrification. Why It's Film Buff: Any part of New York that doesn't look like it's been revolutionized with glass plated gold and random fish sculptures with lion faces makes us happy. That's what this film does best. It shows you the off-beat part of New York, where people will be people and no one really ever says no. Which can sometimes be a good thing. If you like graffiti, drag queens, random art and/or heroin...this is your movie.
►JONATHAN DURBIN | RA RA RIOT | Vmagazine, New York, No. 58, Spring 2009, p. 90 | In the new documentary CAPTURED, thirty years of Clayton Patterson’s reportage-style photographs and film clips bring the L.E.S. back to its former rough around the edges glory.
If you listen to Clayton Patterson, the Lower East Side owes its recent history as a hub of alternative arts (and capital of the American fringe) to cheap rent. The economic argument isn't anything new, of course, but Patterson makes it sound convincing: the 61-year-old expat Canadian artist and photographer has been living on Essex Street for the better part of the last three decades, compiling an image library of the neighborhood during its cultural glory days. His archives are so extensive, he could be considered the unofficial historian of the L.E.S. —which he is in Captured, a new documentary out on DVD this spring.
Patterson and his partner Elsa Rensaa (the two have never married, though they've together 1972) moved to the neighborhood in 1979, living on the Bowery in the same building as Keith Haring, where they found work with their landlord fixing up apartements around the area. The point was to avoid a day job, which, back then, was doable: the city was broke; rent was dirt cheap; and the LE.S. had been ceded to poor immigrants, junkies, the homeless, and, naturally, artists—some of whom were a combination of all four. Patterson notes that the streets below Houston and east of Clinton were particularly dangerous, and that the night he and Rensaa moved into the building where they live today, watched a man get shot across the street. The upside was that for residents—many of whom were in some kind of creative field—the L.E.S. meant community and a sense of extended family. | ►read more
►Alex Donald | New York | September 22, 2011 | “Little Brother is watching Big Brother.” With these words, while being interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey show, Clayton Patterson summed up the change taking place in New York in the late 80s. “Captured” is a documentary released in 2008 and directed by Dan Levin and Ben Solomon which takes Clayton as its subject. Patterson is an artist, photographer and videographer who lives in and documents the Lower East Side (LES) of Manhattan.
Patterson grew up in Western Canada and after art school he moved to NYC with his fiancee, Elsa Rensaa, in 1979. The couple have been together for 30 years but never married as, in true counter culture style, they didn’t want to join the system. She is his partner and archivist, a task that seems insurmountable given his rate of productivity.
Clayton began a career as an artist in New York. He had a gallery in Soho and exhibited there as a mixed media artist. He grew to loathe the pretension of the Soho art clique and so struck out on his own, exploring Manhattan until he eventually found the Lower East Side where he immediately fitted in, loving the energy, inventiveness and the freedom to be whatever he chose. He and Elsa decided to put down roots in the neighbourhood and bought 161 Essex Street after going to 42 banks to get a mortgage.
Clayton documented the Lower East Side through photography and then film. His subjects were the homeless, the drug users, the revolutionaries, artists, musicians and drop outs that made the neighbourhood so vibrant, creative and anarchic. Perhaps his most important contribution to New York history are his films of the ►Tompkins Square Park Riots in 1988. Clayton filmed all night and ended up with four tapes which showed the extreme police brutality and violence which made the headlines. He refused to hand his tapes over to the police and was subseqently jailed for ninety days.
Patterson’s collection of photography, video, art, press clippings, and random ephemera comprise a vast archive of Lower East Side history. He even has scrapbooks which contain the bags used to sell heroin, each one branded differently according to dealer. This great documentary lauds a little known New York hero and is well worth a watch. | Source: ►http://alexdonald.wordpress.com/tag/clayton-patterson/
ABOUT ALEX DONALD: I was born on 25th May in Dublin, Ireland, and have lived here for most of my life apart from a couple of years spent in London. I have written one (as yet unpublished) novel and am currently working on my second novel and other writing projects.—I’m also a DJ and you can check out my DJing biog here.—The Multiverse is a blog which takes in a wide range of subject matter as follows; Monday’s blogs are related to literature and writing, Tuesday is fashion and style, Wednesday is music, Thursday is TV and cinema, and Friday is as random as you like. The Multiverse was a finalist in the “Big Mouth” category at the eircom Spider Awards in 2010 and 2011.—If you want to contact me for a DJ booking or with regards to my writing, please email me at alex dot donald at gmail dot com.