Enter âWild Style,â 30 Years Later<br />

Enter ‘Wild Style,’ 30 Years Later

Thirty years after its debut, this seminal hip-hop artifact of a film is still going strong—remastered and re-released

Michael A. Gonzales

by Michael A. Gonzales, September 27, 2013

Enter âWild Style,â 30 Years Later<br />

Only ‘Style Wars’ comes as close…

musical.” Debuting in Tokyo first, the flick soon opened in a Times Square movie joint called the Embassy. Although this was a first-run movie theater, the neighborhood was filled with B-movie grindhouses where many New York City ghetto kids flocked.

Opening night was chaotic and the theater was trashed. “The theater owner called me up screaming that the hip-hop kids had torn out seats and tagged the walls,” Ahearn laughs. “I was like, ‘What do you want me to do? I’m only the filmmaker.’ ”

Author and actor Bönz Malone was one of the young vandals in the crowd that first night. “Man, I was 12 years old, and I had to wait for my grandmother to go to sleep so I could sneak out,” Malone says. “I put my life on the line, but it was worth it. The theater was so crowded I had to sit on the stairs. And the whole movie was in the audience. I saw Grandmaster Caz, Rock Steady, Grandmaster DST and Lee. That was the night I realized I really wanted to be down with hip-hop.”

Indeed, Malone wasn’t alone. Wild Style fever spread throughout the world. “The impact was almost instantaneous in the form of imitation,” Ahearn remembers. “Kids in Japan and throughout Europe were breakdancing, buying turntables and writing rhymes. Turkish kids went to the Berlin Wall and sprayed the Wild Style logo on it.” Graf artist Zephyr, who also appears in the movie, originally designed the logo. “It didn’t matter that [people in other countries] didn’t understand the language, they still understood what the movie meant.”

Writer Brian Coleman, author of Check the Technique, remembers buying the film years later on bootleg in Times Square. “Some of the acting wasn’t Academy Award caliber, but Wild Style is authentic,” he says. “Young fans that care about the foundation of the culture can watch this and understand that hip-hop came out of a real community. Charlie had all the right people involved and, for me at least, there is no better film about hip-hop culture.”

In 2013, Charlie Ahearn unveiled his latest film, a documentary on dynamic photographer Jamel Shabazz. Meanwhile, Fab 5 Freddy has returned to his first love of making art. This year, he was also featured in Jay Z’s museum piece music video, “Picasso Baby.”

Film producer Lisa Cortes saw Wild Style in “a ratty theater” in her hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, when it was released in 1983, and has not forgotten its bombastic power. “Wild Style was like a bird’s eye view into the origins of the four elements of hip-hop culture. Thirty years later, it is still real, honest and fresh.”

Wild Style returns to theaters in a newly remastered version today at the IFC Center in New York and select markets this fall. The newly remastered Wild Style 30th anniversary collectors’ edition DVD is available October 15.

Cultural critic Michael A. Gonzales has written cover stories for Vibe, Uptown, Essence, XXL, Wax Poetics and elsewhere. He’s also written for New York and The Village Voice. Read him at Blackadelic Pop and follow him on Twitter @gonzomike.

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