Everyone’s Got the ‘Wild Style’ Anniversary All Wrong
Charlie Ahearn sets the record straight.
According to popular belief (Wikipedia), today—March 18—marks the anniversary of the release of Wild Style. To commemorate the supposed 34th anniversary of the iconic film, I reached out to Wild Style’s writer/director Charlie Ahearn for an interview. When we spoke, though, he was quick to set the record straight. Or at least to try.
“I’ve made attempts to challenge this information, but no one listens,” Ahearn says, laughing. “Japan was the first place the film was shown publicly in October of 1982. The following month, in November 1982, the movie was shown in Times Square here in New York, but these weren’t commercial releases.” As for the origin of the March 18 “release date”? Ahearn believes the confusion stems from a director’s screening held in the spring of 1983.
Still, the groundbreaking film introduced hip hop to the big screen. For most moviegoers, myself included, it was the first time seeing our favorite DJs, MCs, b-boys and writers. The Embassy 3 on 47th & Broadway was the only theater showing the film, and legions of young people from across the city formed lines that wrapped around the block for each showing. I snuck out of school to see the movie by myself. The theater reeked of dirt weed and popcorn butter, while the walls covered in spray paint and marker tags read like a Who’s Who of graffiti royalty.
The night of the Times Square premiere, Ahearn received a 2 a.m. call from the theater owner telling him: “You’ve got to come down here! They wrote on everything, and broke the glass to steal the movie poster!”
Artist Cey Adams, who was in attendance for the NYC debut, recalls, “Like a lot of things graffiti-related, there was potential for beef jumping off because there were rival crews in the house. Graffiti never sleeps. You’re partially celebrating while also watching your back.”
“But I have to say, I was proud that there was a movie that celebrated graffiti,” Cey continues. “Everyone in the film was in the theater. After the credits rolled and the screening was done, everyone in the film stood up. I remember looking around and saw all these great graffiti pioneers and icons. It was one of my fond memories of that night.”
Other artists, like LEE, declined to appear in the film. “I was still bombing at the time,” LEE says. “It was more important to me to protect my operation. I didn’t want to reveal how I worked in the yards on film. The pieces by my character Zorro were painted by Dondi, who was my double.”
In 1980, Ahearn began projecting slides at The Ecstasy Garage Disco in the Bronx where Grand Wizard Theodore was the main DJ. The images were mostly of what Ahearn snapped in the yards and at the clubs. The slide shows were a rough storyboard for what would later become Wild Style. On May 11, 2017, Ahearn will be doing a one-person show at Metrograph, at 7 Ludlow St, New York, NY.
“I am re-doing the slideshow from the Ecstasy Garage,” he says. “I’m trying to transform some of that experience into a gallery/show. There are paintings and photo silk screens of images from my slide show, and other video work.”