Downtown Archæologies

The Nick Zedd Papers

by Peter

Nick Zedd
Nick Zedd Papers 1995
Downtown Collection at the Fales Library

Nick Zedd Papers, 1937-2011 (bulk 1979-2008).
Box 1, folder 26
January 1, 1995


noWave,  heroin,  performanceArt 

Attempting to read through the notes of Nick Zedd offer an insight into the mind of a filmmaker who considers himself to be transgressive, coining the phrase “Cinema of Transgression”, a phrase which he uses to define the genre he works in. The artifacts I am working with are Nick Zedd’s first folder of notes from 1995. His use of shock value and black humor are apparent through these notes. Upon looking at these notes, it is clear that they are hard to read, with Zedd’s handwriting almost completely illegible to the untrained eye. Of the sentences I can make out I see things like “I can screw as many women as I like” and “Faggot piece of shit, I yelled.” It seems like an oddity as to why New York University would have a vested interesting in preserving such a vulgar artifact, especially since Nick Zedd’s films are not widely seen, with few ratings on websites like Letterboxd and IMDb. Nick Zedd was once one of the key figures of the New York underground film scene, and his work plays a small role in what was a certain film genre unique to one particular area of Manhattan, that being downtown. He is known for his collaborations with other major underground artists, including Richard Kern, a filmmaker photographer for known his sexually explicit work, Lydia Lunch who is known as a popular artists in the New York punk scene of the ‘70s and ‘80s and a member of Teenage Jesus and The Jerks, which appeared on the Brian Eno-produced album “No New York”, which documents much of the New York underground scene. Another famous collaborator would be Lung Leg, a model known for her appearance on Sonic Youth’s 1987 album EVOL.

Although not direct collaborators of Zedd, No Wave cinema directors are highly related to Cinema of Transgression directors. This scene included bigger names like Jim Jarmusch and Vincent Gallo, who went on to see their work acclaimed from more mainstream publications. These are figures that are considered a bit more important in the scheme of cinema, mostly due to arbitrary awards or film critics. Those researchers seeking to look deeper into the relevance of their work may find Nick Zedd later.

Despite some success in New York’s underground, he never aspired for anything greater than underground like many No Wave directors did and these notes detailing ideas for future films seem to exemplify that. If he were in interest of more sellable work, he likely would have left out the excessive expletives, and made his own writing much neater. Jim Jarmusch has gone on to work with big name actors like Johnny Depp and Tilda Swinton, with films premiering at film festivals. Nick Zedd has found himself sticking to the underground, moving his operation from Manhattan to Brooklyn and now out of the country to Mexico City, Brooklyn. His resilience and commitment to underground makes him an oddity worth studying.

There are plenty of other underground filmmakers who never saw their work archived in NYU’s collection. Because of Zedd’s relation to other known filmmakers and relationship with space of downtown New York he is considered exceptional and has work deemed worth saving by NYU.


  • Landau, Peter. “Pyramid Club.” Accessed March 28, 2018.