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Documentary by Daniel B. Levin, Ben Solomon, and Jenner Furst
New York 2008 | 85 min
NEW MUSEUM | 235 Bowery | New York, NY 10002 | August 22, 2008



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ABOUT THE FILM: 20 years before there was YouTube, and Macaca, Critical Mass arrest videos, and the RNC, Clayton Patterson was capturing video that exposed the struggle between community activists and the often abusive NYPD. He 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 this dark and colorful society--from drag and hardcore, heroin, homelessness, to political chaos and, ultimately, gentrification.In the LES of the late 70’s and early 80’s, it seemed that it was impossible to take a boring photograph.

Realizing this, Patterson vowed to himself not to miss a moment, and he was a ubiquitous presence on the streets, in bars, and at parties, shooting literally hundreds of thousands of photographs and countless videos that captured the essence of the era in what might have been the most thrilling neighborhood on earth. For native New Yorkers, looking at his documents is like staring through a window to our own past, and the drugs, piercings, mohawks, kangols and graffiti on display are, in this context, not kitschy and nostalgic. Rather, they express the rich diversity of many little communities living together in a troubled little niche of the city, long ago changed beyond recognition.

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CAPTURED at New Museum Theater
in: TimeOut | New York | August 27th, 2008

Walking around the Lower East Side these days, the neighborhood can at times feel like an amusement park stuffed into a history museum, as clubs denominated by shades of fuchsia fill the first floors of century-old tenement buildings. Ironically, when Clayton Patterson and his wife, Elsa Rensaa, arrived on the LES in 1979, the state of affairs could be described pretty similarly, but the amusements du jour were drag clubs, hardcore and heroin, not $15 mojitos. During the 29 years that he has lived there, Patterson has tirelessly documented the neighborhood’s characters, culture and social evolution through video and photography. Today, as the neighborhood is undergoing a frighteningly rapid process of gentrification—risking the effacement of the area’s vibrant and diverse character—his work seems more important than ever.

Photo by Clayton Patterson, New York

In their new documentary, Captured, which was screened at the New Museum theater on Friday, Jenner Furst, Dan Levin and Ben Solomon pay homage to Patterson as an impromptu historian, and look back with a twinge of nostalgia at the neighborhood’s gritty and dynamic past. The film moves roughly chronologically through Patterson’s life and work, starting with his early days filming drag queens at the Pyramid Club (still around, but markedly different in character). From there, Patterson began documenting the budding hardcore scene (including captivating footage of an early Bad Brains concert), as well as the diverse and fruitful visual art communities in the area. As Patterson himself put it, he liked to spend time “on the outside edge,” to see firsthand how society was changing. To him, the Lower East Side was one such fringe, where “you could do what you wanted to do.”

Of course, all that freedom of expression was accompanied by its fair share of violence and poverty. As former mayor Ed Koch puts it in the film, “Quality of life was not on the agenda.” Patterson’s footage of the harrowing drug scene and the extensive violence is indicative of just how far the neighborhood was from the city’s attention.

All of that changed with the so-called Tompkins Square riot, on August 6, 1988. Patterson’s footage of the night, accompanied by insightful commentary from academics, policemen and militant squatters, is no doubt the highlight of the film. After the police attempted to enforce a 1am curfew on Tompkins Square Park, home to dozens of the area’s homeless, the rather disparate neighborhood banded together, fighting in the streets until the police retreated the next morning. Patterson, with the immense help of his wife, captured hours of incredible footage, from M80 explosions startling mounted officers to shot after sickening shot of brutal police beatings.

The irony of watching a film that bemoans the Lower East Side’s golden days in a venue that symbolizes the neighborhood’s transformation was difficult to shrug off. But Patterson seems all right with it. In the Q&A after the screening, he admitted his initial skepticism of the New Museum, but praised its efforts to connect with the area’s arts community, past and present. Despite gentrification, Patterson shows little signs of letting up with his work, let alone moving to Brooklyn. For years he has assiduously recorded his neighborhood’s history, helping to solidify its place in New York City lore at its most animated, dangerous and unique. While things will no doubt continue to change, his status as a neighborhood fixture is immutable, no matter how many new museums move onto the Bowery.

Copyright by The TONY Blog,New York 2008

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