By Zak Rye. Between low-brow and no-brow, this is unCultured, where we shamelessly promote and defend some of the “worst” films ever made. With all the hype  surrounding JJ Abrams’ new addition to the Star Wars franchise, we just can’t turn away from a good pun. Thus we bring you the 1983 documentary, Style Wars.

uncultured6Those of us in the, let’s say, twilight of our youth remember being cornered at one point or another by our parents and borderline interrogated about drugs, sex, or whatever subject matter came from the latest Frontline documentary. In fact, I’d guess that most of us 30-somethings would agree that PBS totally ruined us as kids on some fun stuff that we hadn’t even done yet. Shockingly, Style Wars, which originally aired on PBS in 1983, was a strange exception to the things that kept my mother up at night, and somewhere around a decade later, she noticed a copy sitting in our local video store and insisted that she rent it for me. Possibly because she had noticed the doodles of names on my school notebooks, or maybe because she herself is an incredible artist, or more likely because she wanted me out of her hair for a couple hours later.

Style Wars filmed primarily in the Bronx during the summers of 1981 and 1982. It was directed and produced by Tony Silver, alongside Harry Chalfant, and is one of the two projects ever directed by Silver, (the other being well, not worth mentioning). While there is some focus on the other lessons of Hip-Hop, (most notable being the Rock Steady crew’s segment featuring a very young Crazy Legs rocking a trash-stash), the storylines evolve from the crews of young, diverse graffiti writers who have since became legends in their craft. As we follow these kids, traversing the urban underground with a Goonies-like courage, an entire secret world is revealed. Subways, tunnel systems, and abandoned buildings become a network for art, communication, rivalries, and counter politics.

The cast of characters is somewhat dense and, if you’re not up on your graffiti lingo, it can get a little complicated. On paper, the aim of the film seems quite straightforward, but as most writers are massive drama queens, plot lines begin to emerge despite the unbiased intentions of the directors.

Fullscreen capture 1222015 111236 PMFirst, we’re introduced to Skeme, the 17-year old sage of graffiti, and his thoroughly entertaining mother. Skeme explains, rather insightfully, why he writes, and you would be hard-pressed to not realize that this is a point of frustration that he and his mother have conversed over numerous times. Later, Skeme delivers one of the more recognized lines in the movie, which is certainly too long to quote here, but I will state for the record: should I ever ask anyone what they did last night, and they respond, “we did uh… two whole cars”, we’re going to be friends forever.

Skeme revolves around a large variety of other writers, mainly Kase 2, Dez, Trap, and Min. Kase 2, who is often hailed as the founder of the wildstyle (and who has since passed). His graffiti career began after a short stint in prison (for undisclosed reasons), and though he lost his right arm at the age of ten, and perhaps lost his grasp of the English language around the same time, he comes across as a true idiot savant, producing some of the most memorable lines and pieces in the film. Dez and Trap, the youngest of the crew, operate in a genuinely touching, father-son fashion: though Dez is only a couple years older, he remarks how Trap is like a son to him and that one day, with his help, Trap will easily be the best writer in the city. While that didn’t totally happen, Trap is still an influential writer to this day and the depiction of their relationship may have pioneered the apprentice/mentor system that is still highly present in graffiti.

Perhaps the most memorable of our motley bunch of writers is Cap, whose name is still synonymous with shitty graffiti ethics. Cap proclaims himself a bomber, not an artist, and his soul mission is to destroy the most elaborate and artistic pieces on the lines. Cap’s principles are brutal, and quite obviously soaked in jealousy. Before filming began, and knowing that most local writers wanted him dead, it’s reported that Cap was to wear a mask during his scenes, however, upon the day of his shoot, he apparently forgot his mask at home and agreed to have his face filmed. The directors follow Cap through a day of crossing out other writers, dropping the N-bomb to an uncomfortable degree, and generally shitting on everything he isn’t. As every good story needs a villain, Cap was certainly a godsend for the directors and viewers alike. Chalfant was against including him in the film out of respect to the other featured writers, but Silver pressed and Style Wars got its bad guy.

Fullscreen capture 1222015 111818 PMAfter it’s debut on PBS, Style Wars was shown at multiple festivals and received a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. In the last decade, much of the original, previously-cut footage has been replaced, including a scene in which Lady Pink reams Cap at the Graffiti Art Show. To this day, it is considered one of the most important hip-hop documentaries ever made, often toting the tag, “the original hip-hop documentary”. In 2011, Flea, Brad Pitt, James Franco, and Spike Jonze donated to an eBay auction to help raise money to restore the film’s negatives, which totally sounds like a lie, but hey, look it up.

With my more wicked days admittedly behind me, Style Wars still rouses some sense of mischievousness in me. Though it would be terribly hard to justify freezing my ass off in a yard, or a 4am call to my wife to bail me out of jail, there will always be something romantic about this microcosm of edging anarchy, a fleeting thing from even before I held my first breath. Still, if you watch Style Wars – and we hope you do [It’s found below — Ed.] – when it’s over, if you want to, go outside and claim something as your own. You know, fuck the man.