ART: Why ‘Wild Style’ Still Matters 30 Years Later
UPHOLDING THE FOUR ELEMENTS
Seems like yesterday, but I’m old enough to remember those early days of Hip Hop, when things were rough around the edges but nobody cared. Up in the Bronx or down in the Lower East Side with my cousins, we were in the middle of something bigger than all of us. And, one film captured it all: Wild Style.
On Monday, part of SummerStage’s “This is __ Hip-Hop” series presents the 30th anniversary screening of Charlie Ahearn’s 1983 classic at the East River Park amphitheater featured in the movie. Special performances and guests appearances are planned for the free event.
“I feel very humbled by the fact this film has lasted in the hearts and minds of so many for so long,” says Grandmaster Caz, who starred in Wild Style. “I’m awed and flattered by the influence the movie has had on so many and it sits as a testament to those of us who dedicated our hearts, spirits and efforts to this culture now called Hip Hop.”
Ahearn tapped into the psyche of NYC’s youth when he shot on location in the South Bronx and downtown as the story unfolded around a tagger named Zoro (Lee Quiñones). He worked with real subway/street artists, B-boys, MCs and emerging turntablists, who shaped the future by just being themselves. Among other all-city innovators and rockers on-screen: Grand Master Flash, Busy Bee, the Cold Crush Brothers, Sandra “Lady Pink” Fabara, the Rock Steady Crew and Fab 5 Freddy. Unlike today, there was no YouTube to push your product, no corporate sponsors or studio backing.
“We were way out there without any visible funding … development was done in a complete vacuum,” Ahearn tells Tania Fuentez Media ahead of Monday’s celebration. “Everyone was worried it (Hip Hop) was gonna be a fad, it would disappear or people would forget about it. This was in the fall of 1980 when I was talking with people about making the film … of course, it never disappeared.”
Continuing, he reflects: “The film acted as a kind of statement of Hip Hop … most people didn’t know what it looked like or felt like. I am very proud of the vibe we caught in the movie. It may get a little sentimental with Lee and Lady Pink or it may get a little funny with Fred or Busy Bee, but it was real.”
The film actually debuted in Japan, before US audiences caught a glimpse into this new world of creative energy. When it opened in Times Square, “we broke all house records,” during its three-week run, Ahearn recalls. “I would sweat whenever it was shown … it looked so crude compared to slicked up movies then. The regular population had no idea who these people were.”
The filmmaker proudly stands behind his work to this day. “It was some kind of radical idea that we could make a movie and shoot it as close to a documentary … we built with the artists and Wild Style was a projection of where Hip Hop was going to be two or three years.”
Patti Astor acted as a catalyst in the film and real life, so she genuinely cherishes the memories. “It was so exciting to be a part of the beginning of worldwide recognition of Hip Hop culture, although we didn’t realize it at the time,” she says. “I am so honored to be in the company of such great artists. Wild Style is one of the highlights of my film career and after 30 years has become my family, as well.”
For Chief Rocker Busy Bee, Wild Style “was and is the best thing to happened for Hip Hop.” In retrospect, he says, “it was a pleasure to be apart of that, and for that the culture is still alive and well. Today, rap is something we do, and Hip Hop is something we live. All I try to do is keep that going … I do reinvent myself to keep up with the times, and let the world still see the Gods of the culture, are still here. So, for Charlie and Fab 5 Freddy to still think about it and, put it together, is great.”
Wild Style at 30 celebration: http://www.cityparksfoundation.org/calendar/wild-style-30th-anniversary-celebration/
Wild Style the Movie: http://www.wildstylethemovie.com/