Long before hip-hop music exploded into the mainstream, before Mark Ecko notoriously “tagged” Air Force One in an elaborate hoax, before Instagram let us see pieces from the opposite side of the world before the paint had even dried, everything began as a very raw and powerful underground movement in the late ’70s and ’80s in the heart of New York City. When CARBON speaker and co-producer Henry Chalfant and director Tony Silver delivered their award-winning film Style Wars in 1983, the world received its first full immersion into the phenomenon that had taken over NYC so vehemently.
Over at ACCLAIM we’ve been working round the clock to make sure this week’s CARBON festival is the best yet and last night kicked off the festivities with the screening of the iconic Style Wars film, accompanied by a once-in-a-lifetime introduction from Henry Chalfant himself and much-needed beers from the folks over at Brooklyn Brewery.
Not only were we able to celebrate the seminal film’s 30th anniversary with the brain behind it, but attendees were also lucky enough to be at the world premiere of the digitally re-mastered version of the film. Now restored to its original glory, Style Wars is an indispensable account of New York street culture, highly praised for its panoptic approach to exposing the world of graffiti and the extraordinary epoch of creativity taking over New York in the early ’80s. At the time, NYC was debt-ridden, essential services were being slashed and many inner-city neighbourhoods were left in disarray. While life, in many aspects, was a struggle and a half, graffiti and hip-hop flourished in this harsh environment.
Held at Carlton’s beautiful Cinema Nova, the event was packed with long-time fans overflowing with questions to throw at Chalfant during the Q&A session after the screening. Iconic photographer and fellow CARBON speaker Martha Cooper was also amongst the crowd, with many of her stills included in the film. As Chalfant reminisced with the audience about having to weave underneath six running trains, the vibe in the cinema was rich with excitement and pure appreciation for the efforts that he and Silver went to to capture the footage. While indeed there were many a collective laugh at the bad hairstyles and fashion mistakes of the time period, it was evident that, thirty years on, this downright legendary film’s key message is still as potent, and still as important.