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'STREETWISE' the documentary film
Director & Cameraman: Martin Bell
Sound Recordist: Luther Keith Desmond
The rest of the credits are on the 'Streetwise' web site.
Recently, someone mentioned ' Didn't you have summat to do with Streetwise? .' This prompted me to look through the Streetwise website for the first time. I was more than a trifle surprised to find, there's a whole raft of you out there believe this remarkable film was 'scripted.' As the only soundman on the streets of Seattle during the filming of Streetwise, had there been a script, it would have been necessary for me to have a copy. There was no script - period.
The relationship between Dewayne and his father was later developed into a story by Peter Silverman. Martin Bell, Mary Ellen Mark and Peter Silverman wrote a screenplay, which became the 1992 movie 'American Heart' directed by Martin Bell.
Cheryl McCall, who is down as the writer on the website, is most certainly a writer, and also the credited producer of Streetwise. The entire film was inspired by an article in Life magazine (1983) entitled 'Streets of the Lost'- text by Cheryl McCall, photographs by Mary Ellen Mark. All of the action on the street and all of the dialogue in the film is that of the kids. How do I know? Well I recorded the stuff. No-one could write dialogue that good.
Some have thought 'Streetwise' was too beautifully filmed to be a documentary. For the UK television audience, the quality of the images in Streetwise was standard documentary TV in the early 80's. I only mention this, as the crew shooting 'Streetwise' were Limey's. Martin and I had worked together for fifteen years - cutting our teeth on documentaries shot for UK television.
The Limey factor proved to be a stumbling block at the outset. The kids on Pike Street were confused by the accents of two bearded characters, unable to speak American properly, and it took us two to three weeks to convince them we were not the CIA. In two and a half months we shot close on 50 hours of film. This is normal for obtaining enough content to give the editor a chance of constructing a truthful account.
Some of you on the web indicate disbelief as to how some sequences were gathered, indicating a possibility of manipulating the contributors.
The only manipulation of any contributor was administered by myself, in placing radio microphones on the characters involved. It could also be argued that it was manipulation to put a radio microphone on Tiny in her prison cell, prior to filming the visit by Rat. Likewise, with Dewayne's father, also in jail. If this was manipulation, I stand guilty as charged. This was the only way I could gather dialogue from contributors.
Many have expressed dismay or doubt, about the Coke can on the coffin of Dewayne. This was not orchestrated by the crew, simply a forgetful gesture by a father, out of jail for the day for the funeral, distraught at his failure towards his son. What you do not see in this scene is Dewayne's father giving his son a drink of coke from that can.
Some of you may be unaware of the dedication and involvement of the film editor and the editing crew. The skill, sensitivity and integrity of editor Nancy Baker and her sharp shooter assistant, Jonathan Oppenheim is overwhelming. These people make my stuff 'sound' good, and they gave us a memorable film.
I cannot offer you hopeful news on most of the street kids in Seattle, I only wish I could.
The last I heard was that Tiny (Erin) had now given birth to eight children and is about to give birth to her ninth.
Lulu was killed by street kids, without provocation. Over 300 attended her funeral.
Shadow is now working in construction in Seattle.
Munchkin is a chef in a Seattle restaurant.
Patti died of AIDS.
Kim married a Navy Seal and has a child.
Rat, could be almost anywhere.
The rest, Dawn, Shellie, Lillie, I know nothing of.
Someone asked, who sang 'Teddy Bears picnic?' this was not Tom Waits, but a street musician in Seattle known as 'Baby Gramps' wasn't he good?
Luther Keith Desmond Sound Recordist London. U.K. November 2004
I have lived in Seattle all my life, I watched and knew people like the
in Streetwise. Many people would like to think that Streetwise was a
"scripted" movie and that these kids "played up" their lives for the
cameras. Scary as it might seem they did not. This was life on the
of Seattle when I was 12-13. I know, I was a part of it.
Children, barely old enough to take care of themselves ran amok on the streets, had drug habits and prostituted themselves for some food money. They had parents that beat them or were in jail or molested them and that life on the streets was preferred to life at home.
I appreciate that this movie was so truthful and showed what life is really like out on the streets when you open your eyes.
I've watched this movie several times and I am happy that I got off the streets and survived. But the movie does make me wonder if I was the only one. Watch this movie and open your eyes.
Hey, Jen! How funny to see you on here! Love Ya!
I personally love Streetwise. I've seen it a million times. My husband gets embarrassed whenever I show the movie, and hides in the other room.
I am Rat's wife. We live in California, where he originally came from. It's funny that no one knows where he is. Martin and Maryellen still keep in contact and send Christmas cards. Anyway, Rat is alive and doing well. It just goes to show that eating garbage won't kill a person. It might just make them stronger.
This documentary hits very close to home. I grew up with "Rat" after 1984, and our lives are still involved in some ways. I saw this movie as a teenager and it really makes you think about how things could be. Most kids can't wait to get out "on their own" and when you look at the way some roads can take you, you don't ever want to leave. When I look back at how "Rat" grew up and the lives of these other kids, I think to myself how easy it could have been me or kids that I know now. When you watch this movie, you will always remember that LIFE is such a short period of time and so many things can bring you down along the journey. But you have to keep in mind that the negative is always a learning experience, the question is...would you take the same journey again?
Streetwise is a documentary that follows several runaway youth in the
1980s living on the streets of Seattle. Most are no older than 16, but
already have made careers for themselves as pimps and prostitutes,
thieves and muggers, panhandlers and dumpster divers, and doing what
they can to survive.
In a 2006 edition of the New Yorker, a critic suggested that these kids are kind of led by a sense of street freedom, but as another viewer commented, it is likely that a lot of these people, even Rat, were probably miserable, despite the best attempts to hide it or convince themselves otherwise (This was made clear by Rat's opening remark about the things he hated about flying--"coming back to the f***in' earth.") Clearly, Dewayne was, as he committed suicide at the age of 16. The sad thing is that these were kids of children themselves. Not in the sense that they were born to teenagers (which may actually be the case), but that many of their parents had not yet matured beyond their own selfishness to care for these kids as they needed to be (Tiny's mother rationalized her daughter's prostitution as a "phase"). Some of the young girls, 14 and hooking, tell us about their abusive fathers and stepfathers that, despite miserable marriages, their mothers still stuck by them irregardless of the negative consequences to their own children. Rat tells about this too, where he was tired of being between his helpless, divorced parents feuding. Or just parents who seemed capable of having kids, but not raising them. And since no one cared for them as children (most of them, I'm not sure what the background was on the young black man who was pimping the girls, the one who's mother and probably grandmother later show up and ask him to come home), they took the streets and became, as Tiny's mother says, 14 going on 21. They were the city of the lost children.
Some might criticize this movie as being unrealistic, and at least the things coming from Dewayne's dad when talking to his son sounds like something from a film, although the Sound Recordist for the film has assured in his own comments that this is not the case. That there was no script. It makes the events all the more heartbreaking. If the purpose of the film was to raise awareness of the life of young runaways, it makes it point and drives it home hard. It also drives home hard that the policies of Regeanomics (joked by Dewayne later in the film) were hurting those lowest on the income scales (and consequently, moving many into the street). And it makes me wonder what the numbers of runaways and street kids are these days. Washington, DC (where I live now) has a large homeless population relative to the size of the district, but I never see any young panhandlers or prostitutes and wonder, is the situation still the same? Are the institutions working more to get kids off the streets? What has become of the Streetwise now?
Do the subjects of this film know that most everyone who viewed it still thinks about them and wonders what happened to them? Does Martin Bell know this? How the world would eat up a sequel...a follow-up on the people who can be located...
Someone commented that certain portions of this movie are obviously
scripted. Although that's likely the case, I can testify that having
personally met director Martin Bell (on the filming of "American Heart") and
seeing him interact with young people (at the time, I was friends with
someone who had been around on while Streetwise was being filmed), the man
has an *incredible* way with these kids. He has a way of gaining their
trust, of almost becoming one of them. Thus, I suspect that much less of
this film was "scripted" than would appear.
"Streetwise" is not a documentary, although it has a documentary feel. It's a movie, and thus absolute realism is not to be expected. However, his portrayal of the streets of Seattle is amazingly realistic. As I live in the area, I've frequented many of the places portrayed in the film, and just about every scene is recognizable. It was all filmed on location, of course.
Things have changed on the Seattle streets since the early 1980's. Most of the youth (especially the prostitutes) have moved elsewhere, and the areas portrayed in the film are now inhabited mostly by older homeless people (over 18), many of them mentally ill and drug addicts. Crack cocaine abuse is rampant in many of these areas, especially downtown on James St. between 2nd and 3rd Avenue, just north of Pioneer Square. Times have changed, the "bad areas" have changed. First Avenue has been cleaned up, the Ferry runs have been cut way back due to budget cuts, and the younger kids mostly hang in other areas now (I don't know where). Perhaps on Capitol Hill (Broadway) and in the University District.
I too wonder what happened to many of the kids in this film. We will probably never find out. Martin Bell is a strange director, having filmed only two movies (8 years apart), both in Seattle. If you haven't seen "American Heart," I "heartily" recommend it. It's more of a "movie-movie" and has less of a documentary feel than Streetwise.
Because Streetwise is absolutely tops in its genre (pseudo-documentary), I rate it 10/10. If you can still find it (as far as I know it's out of print), see it -- you'll have no regrets.
I have followed (or tried to follow) Tiny through the years, she is up
to 9 children now and is moving to North Carolina with her husband. He
is the father of her last 4 kids. Her oldest son Daylon lives alone and
is 19, her 2 oldest daughters live with a relative. Here is the link to
type in Mary Ellen Mark, the article is called: Focused on a life: Photographer uses camera as force for change
I heard that Rat is living on a farm or ranch, , some people say he died, does anyone have any current info?
Does anyone have a picture of Roberta, the victim of the Green River killer? I cannot remember her face.
I could never forget the kids in the movie, I have done some searching and found out info on some of the kids, pics too and anyone interested can email and I will fill you in. Some think it was scripted, either way it is a touching movie and a harsh look at what life on the street for anyone let alone kids is like.
I find the comments here really interesting. I have always felt the
filmmakers probably manipulated events (rather than outright
scripting), and the kids
hammed it up in places for the cameras, still, that only added another fascinating element to this great film.
I have a book of photographs that went with the film. Alas, the tall lesbian girl was killed in a fight not long after the movie was finished. I also saw a "Nightline" show years later that followed up "Tiny" from the movie. Again, alas, She was a real mess.
Still, everything about this, staged in places or not, has a real ring of heartbreaking truth. Nine and a half out of ten.
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