Mystery Fest: Wild Style

1983 document

Rating: 16/20

Plot: There's something about a graffiti artist and a girl and the graffiti artist's acceptance as a legitimate artist, but it doesn't really matter all that much.

Some movies are great because they tell great stories and have great characters. Some, like Wild Style, are great because of what they document, the time and place and real people they capture. Or the ideas the drift from them, like echoes from the past. This is the first "hip hop" movie, and although there's a narrative with people (not really actors and actresses except for Patti Astor who plays Poodles in one of my favorite movies ever--Assault of the Killer Bimbos), you almost want to just call it a documentary. If not a traditional documentary, it's at least photograph of that time and place and real people, a look at a fledgling rap music where every artist was still required to ask the audience to say hooo and ho ho or reference the "break of dawn," graffiti art, and breakdancing. Wisely, the makers of this used real artists and real rapper and DJ's in this loose story, so you get to see seminal figures in the hip hop scene like Grandmaster Flash, Fab Five Freddy, the Cold Crush Brothers, Lisa Lee, and Busy Bee along with guys who know how to use a can of spray paint. And I enjoyed seeing the art on the subway cars and decrepit walls, almost like a trip through some kind of urban art museum. And there's just something about the sound of a paint can rattling. The art style is compared to a virus and characters talk a little about the outlaw side of it. But you know what? Cities are sometimes really ugly, especially when you really get into their wrinkles and scars, and this colorful art adds a beauty. It's fun to watch the breakdancing, too, and it definitely took me back to my elementary school days when my peers and I spend our recess making fools out of ourselves on a piece of cardboard while thinking we were impressing girls. I never realized the youngster incorporated miming into their dance moves so much. I was spending far too much time pretending to be a robot when I should have been pretending to be a mime. No wonder I didn't get laid in 4th grade. There's enough music in this for one to argue that it's really a musical. Early rap music is so innocent and dumb and wonderful, and I really miss hip hop where a guy can get away with saying, "I'm like Mickey Mouse and the Son of Sam, gonna shake the house, don't give a damn." Or "Threw her monkey ass on my waterbed." Or "Busy Bee's my name and that's a fact. You can't beat that with a stickball bat." Or, "I'm a waterbed user, not an abuser." Who knew that MC's referenced waterbeds so often in the early-80s? A lot of the musical bits are superfluous and some could argue they go on for too long, but it's all priceless. I'm not sure how much footage of this sort of thing exists. And seeing Grandmaster Flash work in a completely superfluous scene? Man, oh, man. If that doesn't get your nipples a little hard, then you're probably way too white. I also enjoyed seeing Fab Five Freddy in this. He was important to my childhood because I watched him on the MTV rap show. Here, it's really hard to tell what exactly he does, but it's obvious to know why he's influential. If that makes sense. He just seems so big here, really standing out in every scene he's in. He's the type of personality people would gravitate toward. He also uses "Scooby-Doo" as an interjection which is something I might borrow for my own vernacular. I was surprised to hear him use the word "hunky-dory" at one point. That would be a word you'd expect to hear from the white guy at a party who says "rat music" or Patti Astor's character. Astor, by the way, is really awful in this, but she's almost awful in a lovable way. One scene involves a gang thing where they take turns rapping while playing basketball. It almost makes the activities in West Side Story make sense actually. Anyway, great art, great music, and a great slice of life all add up to something pretty great here.

How much different would my life had ended up had I been able to pull off even a halfway decent backspin? It really makes you think.


l@rstonovich said...

one of the moments of my childhood that sticks out is walking to the mall so my friend rob could buy fingerless leather gloves so crucial to break dancing. we ended up settling on fingerless leather gloves that said crue on them and had spikes. he removed the spikes and sharpied over "crue" and voila!

i loved wild style.

Shane said...

I never had gloves. Just shorts that were probably too short on me, socks that went up too high, and t-shirts that were baggy enough to make me appear to be a diseased child. Had the Caterpillar down though! And that move where you squat down and spin your leg around while jumping over it with your other leg. Does that have a name?