Heaps of hip-hop themed feature and documentary flicks have dropped over the years, but none can touch the authenticity and historical significance of Style Wars. Originally aired on PBS in 1983, the gritty documentary from Tony Silver and Henry Chalfant chronicles the exploits of young NYC graffiti writers whose unbridled desire to tag is captured vividly in this flick. More sincere than Wild Style, more passionate than Beat Street, Style Wars should be planted firmly on the shelf of any self-described hip-hop head’s DVD library.
During the 70s, most tagging was all but overlooked by lawmakers, but in the early 80s, New York City put the squeeze on writers. Style Wars stunningly depicts how they were forced to contend with cops, police dogs, towering fences, electrified third rails, and internal beefs that could eliminate prized paintings in minutes. That didn’t keep these multicultural groups of
taggers from trying though, and their triumphs and tribulations are brought to life through the words and deeds of the bombers themselves. The film’s stars display an unquenchable desire to be known through their paintings, years before hip-hop became a worldwide commercial industry. Many have said that if hip-hop’s cultural explosion can be pinpointed to a single source, Style Wars’ portrayal of graffiti hungry youth would be the jump off.
The scenes are undeniably riveting, primarily because they are unscripted. Here are but a few standout moments:
-A baby faced Crazy Legs participates in a legendary B-Boy battle.
-Writer Skeme gets into a memorable discussion with his moms, who, of course, is resolutely against his son journeying to treacherous yards late at night to bomb.
-Celebrated scenes at the Writer’s Bench, a landmark meeting place for writers at 149th street in the Bronx.
-The veteran bomber Seen’s sage like words of advice. He’s revered by many and has the power to bring groups of writers together.
-Renegade paint-over artist Cap, who in Zorro like fashion, whiteouts “Cap” over anybody’s throw ups with typically inferior tagging. In one scene, the arrogant writer deadpans, “I am a king.”
-The early history of the “Drama King,” hip-hop superstar DJ Kay Slay, who grew up tagging under the moniker “Dez”.
-Insightful and laughable interviews with then NYC mayor Ed Koch and MTA chief Richard Ravitch, who calls a bunch of unnamed graf artists “surprisingly articulate” after meeting with them in hopes of gaining a better understanding of their exploits.
The second disc of extras contains hundreds of flicks from well-known artists like Daze, TC5, Rammellzee, IZ the Wiz, Zephyr and loads more. Many of those pics are accompanied by updated interviews with stars of the film – stirring before and after portraits of the former youngsters almost 20 years later. Their stories include every emotion and are uplifting, insane, gloomy and everything in-between. The extras also feature tunes from El-P, Rjd2 and Aesop Rock, among others. Simply put, it’s a no brainer, all heads should rock a copy of Style Wars.
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