The ’80s won’t go away, but maybe for a reason: Every time you think humanity has VH1-specialed it to death, someone finds another pile of diamonds in the rough. There are, as it happens, plenty of surprises in “Indie 80s,” BAM’s epic, month-long series of the Reagan era’s thriving low-budget movie scene. One such find — among the jaw-dropping 70-plus titles — is “Losing Ground,” Kathleen Collins’ recently revived 1982 drama, and one of the great forgotten films of the African-American indie scene. That section is also represented by such already-established classics as Spike Lee’s feature debut “She’s Gotta Have It,” the Chaplin-esque “Sidewalk Stories” and Wendell B. Harris’ Sundance winner “Chameleon Street.”
Indeed, the series speaks to the diversity of the no-money scene that came before the Sundance wave, which started in earnest with Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 “Sex, Lies and Videotape.” LGBT issues are represented by Gus Van Sant’s “Mala Noche” and “Parting Glances,” featuring an early Steve Buscemi turn. Immigration pops up in Gregory Nava’s “El Norte,” Wayne Wang’s “Chan is Missing” and John Sayles’ “Matewan.” The gritty side of Ed Koch’s New York, left over from the ’70s, is seen in its grimy glory in Abel Ferrara’s “Ms. 45,” William Lustig’s “Vigilante” and Amos Poe’s “Alphabet City.” And of course, the term “indie” doesn’t just mean passion projects funded by peddled plasma. It extends to scrappy horror and genre films made for next to nothing, few more impressive than Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead” and John McNaughton’s “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” (Also up will be such undying faves as “Blood Simple,” “Blue Velvet,” “Roger & Me,” "Stranger Than Paradise," “This is Spinal Tap” and “Wild Style.”)
To see the series’ diversity, one can simply look at the first weekend (it runs into late August). Over the first three days you can take in Robert Townsend’s scathing “Hollywood Shuffle,” Penelope Spheeris’ camptastic doc “The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years” (where Ozzy Osborne is the voice of reason) and Ross McElwee’s epic cine-diary “Sherman’s March,” among others. Over the coming weeks, may we recommend such off-the-radar goodies as: Les Blank good-vibes doc two-fer of “Gap-Toothed Woman,” a celebration of a dental phenom, and the polka-lovers hang “In Heaven There is No Beer?” (Wed., July 22); “Lightning Over Braddock,” Tony Buba’s funny, experimental, meta study of small town economic turmoil (Tues., July 28); the rapturous black-and-white Old Chet Baker study “Let’s Get Lost” (Sat., Aug. 9); Charles Burnett’s singular “My Brother’s Wedding” (Thus., Aug. 13); and Su Friedrich’s cine-diary “The Ties That Bind,” exploring her mother’s reminiscences of growing up in Nazi Germany (Tues., Aug. 18).
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Indie 80s runs from July 17 through August 27 at BAM Rose Cinemas, 30 Lafayette Ave., Brooklyn. Visit their site for the full lineup and schedule.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge