Style Wars (1983)

Style Wars

Dir. Tony Silver, 1983

At the dawn of the 1980s, a new artform had taken form on the streets of New York– and the subways. The groundbreaking PBS documentary Style Wars captured a watershed moment in hip-hop, when it was about to make its first steps beyond The City. Indeed, quite a bit of that is due to the popularity of the film itself.

Rather than deal with the musical element of the culture, this film focused on the secret society responsible for the spectacular graffiti iconically adorning the sides of New York’s subway cars. Even as people like Mayor Ed Koch and city manager Richard Raditch can be heard denouncing the act of “writing,” their voices betray an acknowledgement of its power as an artform.

In addition to portraying a time before hip-hop culture became racially politicized– the writers interviewed are a very diverse bunch, and most of them are white– it also captured a moment when Writing was already moving out of the subway and into the art gallery. Director Tony Silver does this by faithfully recording the act of writing, as well as dozens of examples of the finished product. B+

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