It's not often that I see a movie so good I feel disoriented. But ever since seeing Style Wars, a documentary about the early 80s hip hop scene in New York, I'm having a hard time concentrating. I want to learn more and more about that moment in time, when just about the most disenfranchised young people made the city their own by covering subway cars in graffiti art, not to mention inventing breaking and rap.
The film gives a glimpse of New York when it still had tumbling down or burned out buildings, not a lot of people around, greenery taking over empty lots, kind of like Detroit today. People of different races share accents cause they grew up in the same neighborhoods. It's exciting to watch the young dancers and bombers talk about their craft, even though they were filmed before I was born. A successful ethnographic documentary communicates the feeling of some social scene, and this thing is driving me crazy wondering what it must have felt like to be part of that moment in time.
I can sit at home in Seattle during an ice storm and learn about New York in 1982 because of the information infrastructure called the internet that people have used to post details about figures like Iz the Wiz, Rammellzee, Lee Quinones, Crazy Legs, and on and on. People who believe in the value of the film have launched a fundraising campaign to restore Style Wars. What have they done to get the word out? Posted the film on Youtube. Letting copyright issues get in the way of sharing cultural history
would be about as stupid as the city of New York washing graffiti off
subway cars. It didn't make it go away, it just damaged some pretty
impressive works of art.