Style Wars

Despite its stiff voice-over, this 1983 documentary by Tony Silver and Henry Chalfant provides a lively introduction to New York street graffiti, heralded by some as folk art but condemned by most as a public nuisance. The insufferable Ed Koch smugly condemns the colorful spray-painted images and bubble letters for “destroying our lifestyle” and jokes that he would spare graffiti artists the death penalty. Coming from the opposite extreme is Skeme, a 16-year-old tagger who resists the bourgeois domestication of graffiti as gallery art—for him the aerosol can is a weapon of resistance. Silver and Chalfant's brief detours into hip-hop and breakdancing don't add much to the central debate, but their coverage of these nascent art forms has turned out to be remarkably prescient. 70 min.

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