Documentary Alert: Style Wars

style warsstyle wars

There’s always been a debate about graffiti in public spaces, and I can’t help but be intrigued by it. By “it” I mean everything: The art, the culture, the music, the dance, its roots, the controversy, what it means to people, etc. I’ll admit to having checked out just about all the books on graffiti that AADL owns. What I’ve really enjoyed are the documentaries depicting the beauty within the ghetto. My favorite is the award winning Style Wars, shown on PBS in 1983. (Also highly recommended is Wild Style.)

Directed by Tony Silver and produced by Silver and photographer Henry Chalfant (one of the foremost authorities on New York subway art), Style Wars chronicles the unique subculture of graffiti writers, breakdancers and DJs in New York City. It has been called the definitive documentation of the emerging hip-hop culture and explores how some got into graffiti, why they do it, how they deal with the conflict with the city, and the social and political issues surrounding it all. The camera is right there with these folks- in their homes, listening to their stories, watching them draw out their plans for new pieces, breaking into train yards, and tagging their little hearts away. There is now an amazing Style Wars website as a counterpart to the film that is a must see. You can view moving subway trains that contain actual art created and photographed back in the day! Looking for more documentaries? There’s also Bomb It and a three part series called Graffiti Verite. Tag, you’re it!