Revisiting Rachel Amodeo’s East Village Classic ‘What About Me’ [INTERVIEW]

Posted on: December 19th, 2014 at 10:30 am by

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Nick Zedd, Richard Edson, Rachel

I don’t know about you, but every time I find out about a movie that was filmed in the East Village circa NOT present day, I get super excited. I revel in the unique gritty history, and how the streets were not littered with a Starbucks and ::insert generic Bank name here:: every other step. That’s why when I first discovered Rachel Amodeo’s What About Me I immediately scoured the internet until I found it on DVD (Amazon is an amazing thing). A timecapsule of the East Village in the early 1990s, the film follows a young woman (played by Amodeo, herself) who wanders homeless in the East Village. She meets a guy, hangs out in Tompkins Square Park, visits a psychic – you know, things that seem fun unless you don’t have a place to sleep in the dead of winter. Not only is What About Me extremely entertaining, but saying that it’s a historical timepiece would be an understatement.

I recently connected with Amodeo and her partner/cinematographer of the film (who is also an amazing NYC artist, FYI) M. Henry Jones. The two elaborated on making the What About Me and how the neighborhood has changed in the subsequent years.

Bowery Boogie: Why did you decide to make a film?

Rachel Amodeo: I was always involved in the arts in some way. I was a drummer in two bands, Vacuum Bag and Das Furlines. Das Furlines appeared on Entertainment Tonight in one of its early incarnations. We were also featured in People Magazine and opened for Frank Zappa. My boyfriend, M. Henry, is an animator and a 3D photographer who made rock videos before MTV, so art was a big part of our world. We were at our friend Jack Smith’s memorial and I was having a conversation with Nick Zedd. As we were talking I mentioned that I wanted to make a short film. I didn’t even know why I said that. And he was like, “Well, if you are going to make a movie, I want to be in it.” Later, walking home with Henry, I said, “Henry! I have to make a movie, I just told this guy I’m going to make a movie and I don’t want to be a hypocrite!” So he said, okay, lets do it.

BB: Where did the idea for the film come from?

RA: I took a walk around Tompkins Square Park to come up with an idea. Interestingly enough, it was during the homeless encampment, where there were a lot of shanty houses at the time. I struck up a conversation with a few of the residents there and came to find out that a lot of people there had a series of breaks through uncontrollable circumstances. I decided to make a film about that. During the homeless encampment, cops came in just before dawn, while people were sleeping and kicked everyone out. Of course there was a second encampment about a month later. We had footage of both in the movie. Homeless people didn’t have anywhere to go, and back in those days there wasn’t a curfew. My idea was to make a story about a homeless couple who get swept up into the drama of living on the streets. We shot the first scene in a snowy Tompkins Square Park and when we looked at the rushes everybody thought it looked like a Charlie Chaplin film. So I said to everyone, well if I write more, would you do more scenes? They said sure.

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Johnny Thunders Take 2

BB: Who was involved in the film?

RA: The original actors were me, Richard Edson, Nick Zedd, and Richard Hell. It started with the four of us, then it snowballed. As the film progressed, more and more people wanted to be in it. I met Johnny Thunders at a friend’s house and I originally hired him to do the soundtrack. We developed a friendship and one day when he came over he said, “I was thinking maybe I could be in your movie. Maybe either a priest or your brother.” I thought about it, and was like wow, okay, she does need a family. So, in the movie she has a brother, and it all worked out. DeeDee Ramone was also in the film. I remember going to The Chelsea Hotel a few times to hang out with him and work on his scene. Anyway, the snowball got bigger and bigger. Everyone did really well because I put them in improv situations that reflected their own character.

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DeeDee Ramone, Rachel, Richard Edson

BB: What was the East Village like back then?

RA: Things were a little more Wild West. I remember one night I was editing the movie in my living room, where I was living with Henry. I heard a loud bang and I said, “Henry, what’s the cat getting into now?” I ran into my bedroom, and there was some guy with a crowbar running up the fire escape of our apartment. This was around 1991. Another big difference was that there were hardly any children. The playground was used by drug addicts; pot smoking residents.

M. Henry Jones: In the late 70s and early 80s, you could move to New York City with $600. $200 to pay rent, $200 to put a down payment on your apartment, and $200 that would last you at least two weeks. Back then, NYC was a hub, lots of things were going on, so a lot of people came here. When rent started to get too high, they would move to Texas, and then Austin became a big thing. Later on you get Portland, San Francisco, and other big cities that became popular. Recently I saw a kid standing outside with all of his luggage and he was just looking up at the prices of apartments with wide eyes. So now those types of people that would make the “scene” back then are going elsewhere. It’s just too expensive. Back in 1975 my rent was $125 a month on 9th street.

BB: How long have you been living in NYC?

RA: I’ve been living in the city since 1982. I came to the US from Italy on a boat when I was 4 years old. I grew up in Iowa and went to College in Santa Barbara. I loved SB at first, it’s the most beautiful place in the world, but it was kind of a sleepy town. I would get frustrated because at 1:30 in the morning I would want to go out and everything was shut down. I remember watching the TV and I saw an ad for New York City, “New York City! The City that never sleeps! New York!” I said to myself, that’s where I want to go! So, it’s a long story how I made it here, but I did. In fact, Henry said the same ad made him want to move here too, if that isn’t fate!

BB: How did you and Henry get together?

RA: I was GoGo dancing at the Pyramid club in 1987 and Henry showed up looking for GoGo girls to model for his 3D GoGo show. We did a photo shoot with a bunch of girls at Globus studio where he worked. I remember one night I decided that I had to run to the deli, and he saw me as I was crossing the street and he was like, “Oh hey, I got the photos back, do you want to come check them out?” I said, “Oh, it’s kind of late, I don’t want to walk home alone.” And he offered to walk me back afterwards. So we go back to look at these pictures and I was commenting oh how I didn’t like the ones of myself, which made him laugh. All of a sudden I was like, wow, that’s a nice laugh! When he was walking me home I mentioned how I was kind of lonely and wish I had someone to hang out with. He said, “I’ll hang out with you.” I went over there a few days later with a cup of coffee he had asked me to pick up. He opened the door and I knew right away that he was the right guy for me.

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