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A contributor as well as Documentation of early UK Hip Hop History.
This documentary was created sometime around 1987 and aired on channel 4. It is a follow up of sorts to the 1984 BBC documentary 'Beat This' which served as an outsiders view of Hip Hop as a new New York sub-cultural phenomenon. Here Director Dick Fontaine returns to focus on the UK adoption of this Hip Hop culture and some of the conflicts created therein. To achieve this, the production chose to focus on Graffiti Art, no doubt because this element had the biggest conflict and issues to explore with its high presence, intrusion and illegality. In those days Break dancing took centre stage in the UK but wouldn't have provided nearly as interesting debates to explore.
After providing such a strong argumentative presence in 'Beat This', Brim Fuentes (TAT) is brought over to the UK as a sort of cultural ambassador of New York graffiti in a string of workshops and informal seminars. He is also put squarely in front of international main stream media's scrutiny. To which they responded in a manner of ways that at best was condescending and at worst was a down right personal attack for being a catalyst to the vandalising of Britain's culture and heritage.
From here the documentary alludes to the social implications of ethnicity and poverty, and their relationship with the Hip Hop subculture. This is where Goldie (of later Drum n Bass fame) as one of the UK premier graffiti artists makes a strong presence in his most notable early television appearance. It's his relationship and 'parallels' with Brim that really play out the rest of the documentary as the two exchange visits to each others home environments in Wolverhampton and the Bronx respectively.
In a time of little professional media exposure, this production has subsequently survived as a rare but significant insight, as well as contributor, to the early history of British Hip Hop. As with all old school productions there is various cringe inducing sequences to get past as some of the various UK featured protagonists attempt to exploit their new found media exposure and kudos. This also serves to whip up some considerable youthful optimistic sentiments of social revolution and change in some, which is not shared by Brim.
For a man his age he holds up considerably well under the pressures put on him. His disposition result in some really interesting narrative during the 'Death Wish' movie set painting, the Pensioner confrontation at the BR station Mural, the Oxford Fine Arts University seminar as well as much of his dialogue with Goldie. You do sense he fails to relay the social realities and context of his New York backdrop, and the resulting misunderstanding and persecution he encounters take their strain. To my knowledge he has never gone on record since to express his opinions about these events. Shame, would be really interesting to hear.
The film incidentally captures some of the earliest footage of significant UK protagonists such as Goldie and a pre Massive Attack 3D (not his finest hour here), as well as a noticeably limited Mode 2 and the Chrome Angels appearance at the Birmingham wall commission. However it is debatable that the producers pushed their own inclinations towards ethnicity and Graffiti here, with their focus on Goldie and Brim. It makes for interesting viewing but considering the well documented fact that the culture transcended ethnic barriers in New York and beyond, it can be held up as a particular flaw. You decide.
This was a BBC production that was later put out on Video in the UK sometime around 1986 on video label called channel 5. The UK only had 4 TV channels at that time. If you are a fan of the era and the scene then this is definitely a worthwhile acquisition if you can find it (You can view it on the videos section of this site or youtube). Like style wars and wildstyle you will recognise that this has been cained as sample fodder and you will appreciate the opportunity to see a number of legends back in the day.
If you are not a particular fan of the genre then you will probably find your toes curling at those same legends, wondering whatever possessed them to dress up in some of the truly ludicrous attire that they wear here. Bam + Force posing as outer space galactic beings in fancy dress, flying down from planet Rok to put the Bronx in Future Shok! Grandmaster Caz and the rest of the Cold Crush indulging their Overtly swelled sexist alter ego's 'the heartbreakers' whilst wearing the campest attire. The Dynamic Rockers having the gayest Breakdance battle with themselves. These and many more moments are truly laughable! Yet fans of the genre probably would'nt bat an eyelid knowing that this was all part of an evolution that at that time, was still in its infancy. (I think some of the current practitioners of Rap still have'nt Grown up yet, but thats a whole different argument).
Between some of these contrived set pieces are some good interviews. Kool Herc gets his for being the catalyst to it all. Brim really holds it down on the Graffiti argument. This prompted the production to later tour him around the U.K. in their 1987 "Bombin'" documentary. Talk about standing him under the conservative media's cross hairs at such a young age. The way he held up is just a testament to that guys character. Malcolm Mclaren gives a good account of the first outsiders discovery of hip hop and gets mocked as the first outsider to exploit it. There is a host of small cameo's, Curtis Blow, Arther Baker, Lisa Lee, jazzy jay etc etc. Whilst it was done during that era before Rap called its own and kicked everyone else to the curb, it still isn't that comprehensive over all the elements. The spotlight only gets to a select few. However just for the fact that it's all set in the irreplaceable aesthetic of early '80s NY is enough for fans of the genre to appreciate this.
One Down, Two to Go (1982)
Three down and going nowhere.
Contrary to another comment on this film. "If you like the stars in this film then you will like this film." I, like many others, always keep a look out for any Jim Kelly fliks knowing that you're in for some irrepressible charisma and perhaps even a irrepressible 'Fro. But any bias I have to the stars in this film just couldn't persuade me to actually say that I enjoyed the film.
Scenes dragging themselves to their graves, suspense voided build-ups to anti climatic events and of course some cardboard acting are all expected and forgivable in this genre of film. But with the cast at hand you hope you're gonna have some on screen personalities reaching out of the screen and giving you a good smack in the face. If there is a cast to do it then surely this is it. Unfortunately the lot of em die on their asses in their attempts with this movie. Shame.
Style Wars (1983)
The 'King' of Graffiti cinema.
I've just been browsing the comments of the Old skool hip hop classics like Beat Street, Wildstyle etc when I thought I would take a look at this one. Which is by far the best. I was surprised at the lack of comments as this really is a great in depth look at New York, at a time when the city was an exciting bubbling cauldron of sub culture. All before it was turned into a mass marketed commercial fabrication cashed in on by various corporations.
The likes of Seen, Skeme, IztheWiz, kase2 amongst others give memorable dialogue and insights to their experiences. All of which very well pitched up against Mayor Koch and various Subway transit authority representatives pitching their political and social prerogatives against the Graffiti writers exploits. The cornerstone to this documentary ever being made was Henry Chalfant whom befriended and sympathetically documented the writer's work for many years. I recall that the documentary actually won an award of some description but looking over the box sleeve I can't find the details of this. Also worth noting is that the recent release contains an extra 10 minutes of previously unseen footage.
I noticed that there are no links on this site to purchase it but it is easily acquired. I recommend a trip to a local comic shop or the like and pick up one of many Graffiti art magazine publications. You will find it for sale in any one of those. If you are particularly keen on this subject matter you might also want to hunt down a book by 'Craig Castleman' called 'Getting up' for a more in depth if not visual account. The fourth coming release of Downtown '81 might also be worth a look for the real fans of this genre.
Through various publications I have read of many of the featured writers in Style Wars, still around and making their mark in the world of Graffiti. The one writer that I haven't personally heard about since' is Skeme. For me his contribution to the documentary invoked a lot of admiration, due to his blunt honesty and purist ethics. I have read that Henry Chalfont has no intentions to make any follow up documentary on the basis that home grown publications and videos are already achieving this. Personally and i am sure many agree with me, this is a story that many would like to see continued and whom better to tell it than Henry himself.
A beautiful film.
I just watched "The Browning version", a later film that united Mathew Modine and Albert Finney, purely on the basis that I was so compelled by their performances together in 'The Orphans'. A film that I saw some time ago, but has stayed with me since.
"The Orphans" is based on two young men, existing on the fringe of society. No doubt due to their background and the neglect of their upbringing, that they subsequently suffer various emotional and mental illness. Enter Albert Finney. A gangster whom they kidnap purely to rob. Yet despite their aggressive intentions and perhaps also because of it, he identifies with the boys and sympathises from his own orphan upbringing. Albert Finney's character intrinsically sets about to break down their defences. Battling the conflicts in a very touching transition from mugging victim to a foster father role. A situation that conflicts the boys security against the emotional needs that they require to challenge their fears and build any kind of self pride to live in society, and not on the fringe of it.
Like the previous comments have said, the film is very much like an on screenplay. I imagine that it was written as a play but don't let that put you off. I was completely compelled throughout this film and do not recall being bored from a lack of visual stimuli. Despite my usually short attention span, it was simply not the case. An unknown gem of a film that is truly a treasure when found.
Very very funny.
I saw various clips of this early animation on a documentary about the changes in cartoons and animation through the ages. An interesting documentary featuring John Kricfalusi amongst others. However the highlights were undoubtedly the clips of Buried Treasure. Not surprising, was that this animation was featured in regards to adult content and themes, in what is often regarded as a medium for children's entertainment. This hilarious little cartoon is clearly for an adult audience as it is of a sexual nature. As I recall, it's centred on a very well endowed little character whom has anything but a little libido. In a knockabout fashion like the 1920's silent movies of Buster Keaton, he makes one goof after another on account of being unable to sexually repress himself.
You may read this and scoff from your intellectual disposition. But I would happily place a bet against anyone to watch this and not find themselves rolling in belly laughs. As I recall 'Buried Treasure' was the second of two animations that were very alike. Unfortunately, I have no idea of any details of the other one. I did however go looking on the Internet for this one and even contacted 'Spumco' animations. The lead I received took me to a dead end and so I gave up. However I would imagine it would have to be somewhere on the net to download.