Style Wars (DVD)
Youth movements tend to be polarizing, and few have inspired stronger feelings on both sides than graffiti, which is often perceived as either a vibrant urban art form or a wanton act of vandalism. Style Wars betrays its bias with its first sequence, a lyrical passage in which a hulking subway train sheathed in darkness rumbles forward before being suffused with light that turns it into a moving gallery of graffiti art. This evocative, unforgettable sequence sets the mood for a film that vibrates with the energy, poetry, and color of an art form rising up from the crime-infested streets of pre-Giuliani New York. A seminal 1983 documentary, Style Wars documents a particularly important moment in hip-hop's evolution, when breakdancing, rapping, DJing, and graffiti art were just beginning to come together to form the backbone for a cultural revolution. Combining interviews with young, funny, funky, and fresh-faced graffitists and breakdancers, footage of its subjects at work, and opposing viewpoints from such prominent proto-haters as then-mayor Ed Koch, Style Wars emanates joy from both sides of the camera. Breakdancing, graffiti, and rap later became the chief selling point for a series of opportunistic B-movies, and one of Style Wars' chief pleasures lies in seeing B-boys performing their craft unencumbered by the cheesy dialogue and cornball plots of films like Rappin' and Breakin'. The two-disc Style Wars DVD gives director Tony Silver's film the deluxe treatment it deserves, supplementing the movie with outtakes, interviews with the filmmakers, graffiti galleries, and a hall of fame. Almost as fascinating as Style Wars itself is the second disc's prominent inclusion of contemporary interviews with the film's subjects. Some died, others rode hip-hop's wave to successful careers in the industry, and still others have suffered through hard times, battles with drugs, and failing health. Many retain the swagger and braggadocio of their younger selves, even as they pop-lock their way into middle age.