Underground U.S.A. 1980. USA. Directed by Eric Mitchell. With Patti Astor, Rene Ricard, Jackie Curtis, Cookie Mueller, Taylor Mead, Tom Wright, Teri Toye. Set design by Jedd Garet. 16mm. 85 min.
In a highlight of her No Wave film career, Downtown dignitary Patti Astor is at the center of Underground U.S.A., Eric Mitchell's take on Sunset Boulevard crossed with Warhol's Factory. The washed-up superstar's encounters across Manhattan's art, fashion, and club circles are an occasion for deadpan and camp performances (chiefly by Rene Ricard, as her mannered butler and companion) to contrast with Astor's tragic ennui. The narrative flourishes under heavily shadowed lighting that, together with artful costume and scenic design, reclaim the look of Technicolor melodrama as a No Wave strategy (by way of Godard and Fassbinder). All the while, the film's release looked decidedly ahead: shot in 16mm (following two Super8 features by Mitchell), the film signaled the blooming of Downtown's aesthetic beyond its native clubs and alternative spaces. Underground U.S.A. ran for nearly six months as a midnight movie at St. Marks Cinema, and was presented at The Museum of Modern Art in a Cineprobe evening (a precursor to Modern Mondays), after which the film was added to the Museum's collection.