Photos and Captions Charlie Ahearn Words Horace Byrd III
Thirty years ago, a humble film called “Wild Style” made its way into select theaters, most notably a movie house on Forty Deuce, a.k.a. Manhattan’s then-ultra-seedy 42nd Street. Charlie Ahearn, the film’s writer-director-producer, hadn’t produced a film of that scale at that point in his career as an artist. Ahearn just knew the culture that was unfolding before him on Manhattan’s Lower East Side was potent. The Deuce was a place where the apostles of hip hop would congregate to socialize, buy Chinese stars and Spanish Fly, and peep some of the most random double-features known to man.
“Wild Style” was far from random. You couldn’t call the film a documentary, but what was captured on celluloid for forever was certainly an honest reflection of what was percolating. Music and dialogue from the film have been endlessly sampled. Graffiti artists like Lee and Lady Pink have become hip hop’s first on-screen Bonnie and Clyde. Busy Bee threatening to spell his name out with cold cash inside of a crazy ghetto “hotel” room is the kind of American Splendor that can’t be topped.
The global impact of the film can’t be measured by Facebook likes and odd Tweets. One needs to look no further than to the moves busted by b-boys, bombers, beat-makers and rhyme-sayers who represent the indigenous contingent of scenes everywhere. You can look to multiple generations of these folks to see what “Wild Style” left behind, and where they’ve taken it in the years since.
Go cop the 30th Anniversary DVD. And read Ahearn’s reflections on images from the film NOW.
Iconic Amphitheater Jam (shot by the incomparable Marty Cooper praise and gratitude be unto her). This shit was real! We outlawed the party, ran 12 10K movie lights from NYC park juice. It would take a paragraph to list who I see here, but The Chief Rock Busy Bee is doing his thing dressed like some Borcht belt comedian (jacket imitated by Run DMC in their first Bronx appearance at Disco Fever). Rock On! 1982.
This Japanese tour poster is crowned by Rock Steady’s Take One doing a head spin over Wild Style in bold Japanese characters. We toured cities like Tokyo and Osaka, rocking live screenings in theaters and playing stadiums, TV stations and Seibu department store, 1983.
Joey Conzo snapped this B&W of me and the Cold Crush Brothers at the Dixie Club. I am holding their freshly signed contract moments before they took the stage to battle the Fantastic Five, 1982.
We used my brother John’s Bronx apartment for Zoro’s bedroom and Lee did the Krylon ZOROs all over the walls, and he acted pretty good too. Photo by Cathy Campbell, 1981.
My hand made calendar is clear proof that I had never made a feature with a film crew. This was our production plan. Notice that the first three scenes were cut from the movie (Kase’s Spot, Cop’s office and Young Writers at The Amp), as I was pretty shaky as a first-time director. Later stuff was OK.
Crash’s “Wild Style” poster was sweet but lacked the graphic punch later delivered with the Zephyr mural. Distributors always wanted to redesign the image, and so we got the First Run Features poster, which borrowed the mural logo exploding out of a record with Frosty Freeze on the groove, 1983.
A third of the budget rested on this night in the yard and it poured rain and our star, Lee, pleaded sick and never showed up, leaving Dondi to don the doo-rag as Zoro. Dondi later did the (illegal) iconic Wild Style window down which rolled through the movie. Photo by Martha Cooper, 1981.
Patti Astor’s car breaking down in the Boogie Down was a humor sketch, with the kids surrounding her car with baseball bats but, then in unison, declaring “We are all graffiti writers!” Cut to an Our Gang-style car push to the Dixie. Photo by script supervisor Cathy Campbell, 1981.
Although Zephyr, Revolt and Sharp painted this mural under the cloak of darkness, here they are, still hitting the wall in day light despite zero permits and in open view of police cars on the West Side highway. One police car stopped to watch, then sped away. We led a charmed life. And we were very lucky to have Marty Cooper come by to capture the moment in 1983.
This story appears in Mass Appeal Issue 53, which you can purchase a copy of here.