4 March 2008
WILD STYLIN': A DOUBLE BILL OF 70s NYC STREET-GANG MOVIES:
THE DEADLY ART OF SURVIVAL (dir. Charlie Ahearn, 1979)
80 BLOCKS FROM TIFFANY'S (Gary Weis, 1979)
"They think they’re outlaws. I think they’re bums.” The late 1970s witnessed the first trickle of films to look at the battered housing projects, block parties, ghetto self-fashioning, MC slanguage, and joyous, fugitive sounds and textualities that birthed what later came to be known as hip hop culture. THE DEADLY ART OF SURVIVAL by Charlie Ahearn, director of the celebrated ‘Wild Style’ (1983), is a no-budget, Super-8 martial-arts epic, influenced in equal parts by ‘The Harder They Come’ and Andy Warhol, in which black and Puerto Rican kids from the Lower East Side ninja-fight and karate-kick their rivals, some of them belonging to the magnificently titled ‘Disco Dojo’ crew, across local rooftops and handball courts.
Ahearn’s film was later projected at parties and shows around NYC where its Bruce Lee creolisations went down a storm. They represented a caperish counterpoint to the more solemn flexings and macho struttings of the gangs depicted in Gary Weis’s documentary 80 BLOCKS FROM TIFFANY’S, a look at the Savage Nomads and Savage Skulls gangs that competed for ascendancy in recessionary, quasi-apocalyptic Bronx. Sporting Nazi regalia and fiercesome moustaches, brimming with near-psychotic violence, they come on like a real-life version of The Warriors. The Colloquium for Unpopular Culture is delighted to present a very rare screening of these two hugely evocative and enjoyable time pieces that spotlight an all-too under-recorded segment of recent New York cultural history.
The films will be co-presented by Tavia Nyong’o, Assistant Professor of Performance Studies at NYU, and author of ‘Punk’d Theory’ in Social Text and ‘Do You Want Queer Theory (Or Do You Want the Truth?)’ in Radical History Review; and by Shante Paradigm Smalls, an emcee, singer, poet, events producer, writer, and PhD student in Performance Studies at NYU.