Classic Hip Hop Documentary Wild Style Gets a Week at Film Forum


Originally released in 1983, Charles Ahearn’s classic hip-hop film, Wild Style, laid out from the start a lot of the overlapping issues that continue to plague hip-hop culture: the tensions sparked when artists try to stay true to their outsider or artistic roots even as mainstream validation beckons; the potentially corrupting effects of the media’s contextualizing of the art and artists; the struggle to sustain authenticity. A documentary-style film that doesn’t have much in the way of conventional plot or structure, Wild Style follows Zoro (played by OG graffiti artist Lee Quinones) as he navigates his way from the bombed-out streets of the Bronx to art-world Manhattan while simultaneously working through his complicated feelings for fellow graffiti artist Rose. The acting is often laughably stiff, but that’s part of the charm of a film whose real value is as a time capsule unlocked. A who’s who of early hip-hop appears on-screen (including Quinones, Fab Five Freddy, Grandmaster Flash, Rock Steady Crew, Cold Crush Brothers, and a blink-and-you-miss-her club shot of Angie B./Angie Stone), while background shots of the war-zone streets that birthed hip-hop, long shots of beautifully and meticulously tagged subway trains, and in-your-face performance scenes set in palpably hot, sweaty makeshift clubs combine to give Wild Style an artful vibrancy that remains undiminished.