It's probably been said before: The Lower East Side is both a location and a state of mind. At least it used to be. Before the developers arrived. Before the la-di-da gentrification of the real estate boom. Before the boutiques.
It's also probable that nobody represented the old Lower East Side with more sweat equity and flesh-and-blood belief than Clayton Patterson -- not Allen Ginsberg or Abbie Hoffman, not Ed Sanders or Tuli Kupferberg, not The Living Theater or The Hell's Angels, not Keith Haring or Taylor Mead, maybe not even Emma Goldman or Dorothy Day.
This Clayton Patterson -- the videographer, photographer, artist, photojournalist, archivist, community activist, neighborhood preservationist. The motivating force behind the books Captured and Resistance -- their instigator, editor, and slave. The irrepressible and irreplaceable Clayton Patterson who recorded the infamous Tompkins Square "police riot" of 1988 on videotape. The Clayton Patterson who is the subject of a new 90-minute documentary, also titled Captured (It's being screened Thursday, April 24, at 6 p.m., free, at NYU's Cantor Film Center.)
Have a look at the trailer
It's the Clayton Patterson who was sentenced to 90 days in jail for refusing to give up the riot tape to the district attorney as evidence against the cops unless the original was screened in public, because he feared the authorities would edit out the most damning footage. It's the Clayton Patterson who went on a 10-day hunger strike to make his point and finally succeeded.
"What effect did the tape have on the police?" Patterson has written. "A bunch of cops were fired, five were indicted, a chief was retired, the captain was moved out of the precinct, and there were numerous departmental trials against the rogue officers." As he once told Oprah Winfrey, while brandishing his video camera, "This is a revolutionary tool. Little brother is watching Big Brother."
Over the next 15 years, Patterson would be arrested many times for challenging the authorities. But that's only a small part of his story. Never without his camera, he "has dedicated his life," the filmmakers note, "to documenting the final era of raw creativity and lawlessness [of] a neighborhood famed for art, music and revolutionary minds. ... He's recorded a dark and colorful society, from drag to hardcore, heroin, homelessness, political chaos and ultimately [to] gentrification."
Postscript: In what is being billed as its world premiere, "Captured" will be screened on June 13 in the 2008 Summer Series at Rooftop Films.
PPS: May 21 -- Yesterday the Lower East Side was designated a most endangered nabe by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, along with 10 other historic sites (video).