Monday, 28 April 2014

Style Wars (1983)

Style Wars, trailer

Year: 1983
Director: Tony Silver
Runtime: 69 mins

Synopsis: Rock the mic, rock your body, rock the city. Style Wars is not, as one might assume from the title, a documentary on high-end catwalk fashion, in fact, it couldn't be further from that world. The film explores New York street culture in the early 1980's through three mediums, primarily graffiti art, break-dancing, and to a lesser extent, hip-hop and rap music. It also covers the ongoing battle between it's main protagonists, working class New York teens from the various boroughs, and the combined efforts of the mayor's office and the New York City Transit Police Department to stop what is known on the street as 'bombing', putting up your art quickly, and getting out without being noticed. 

Style Wars has all of the elements of a great documentary. Director Tony Silver sheds light on an untold story, with interesting real-life characters, gritty cinematography and a superbly mixed soundtrack of rap and foreboding classical music. The young graffiti artists and break-dancers defy stereotypes, explaining articulately why they do what they do and detailing their various styles and their evolution over the years. Interviews with the public and authorities leave you with no doubt the majority of people in New York view the graffiti itself as unsightly and there is an appetite to punish these 'offenders' accordingly. You very much feel drawn to the young people in this story, and it's hard not to admire their thoughtfulness and organisation when observing how they channel their creative talents into each of the mediums previously mentioned. 

There is definitely a distinct difference in watching Style Wars today as opposed to when it was released back in 1983. There's obviously a bit of 80's nostalgia, the music, the scenery (evoking memories of countless movies based in the city during the era) and the clothing, but you also feel a certain sense of loss. This period, as described on the specially set up website (to get funding for a restoration of the documentary), ' regarded as the indispensable document of NY street culture and subway graffiti art of the early '80s, the filmic record of a golden age of youthful creativity that exploded into the world from a city in crisis.' It is in some ways sad that this culture was so fleeting and no longer exists, and indeed, specifically with regard to graffiti art, possibly never can again when you think of the level of security and swathe of CCTV in modern cities today. It brings to mind the old adage, 'You don't know what you have until it's gone', and this brings me to the final part of why this documentary was so important, we now at least have a record of that brief moment in time, something that should always be to the forefront of the documentary film-makers mind when seeking out a unique subject matter.

Style Wars is an engrossing and superbly made documentary which I highly recommend, it's one of the most enjoyable ones I've seen in quite a while, good news is that you can watch it for free on Youtube below, so get out your sweatbands and Adidas gear and get watching! 

Style Wars, Full Documentary

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