The novelty of the crudely-fashioned WILD STYLE is that it captured a lost era before inner-city rap music, hip-hop, and breakdancing became so ludicrously commercialized that even the Addams Family and Don Ameche (the latter in COCOON) turned into exemplars of the art. After a brief
theatrical release in 1983, WILD STYLE itself went back underground itself, until its belated home-video bow in 1998.
In the black and Latino New York City ghettos, colorful graffiti (especially on subway trains exteriors) is considered a legit art form and phantom scrawler "Zoro" a spray-can superstar. Zoro is really Raymond ("Lee" George Quinones), a mild-mannered guy in love with fellow tagger Rose, alias "Ladybug" (Sandra "Pink" Fabara). Acting more or less as Raymond's agent, a swaggering three-card monte dealer named Phade (Frederick "Fab 5 Freddy" Brathewaite) wants to introduce Zoro and other street-level performers to the big time. Phade guides chic, naive uptown reporter Virginia (Patti Astor) into the South Bronx for a taste of graffiti, breakdancing and rapping, and presents Zoro to the rarefied Manhattan gallery scene. The somewhat bewildered Raymond finds himself painting on canvas now, with no danger of patrolling security guards; his relationship with Rose suffers under the pressure of the lifestyle change. Commissioned to paint a backdrop for the Second Annual Sugarhill Rap Convention in Green Park, Raymond/Zoro suffers a creative block, until an argument with Rose gives him the visual ideas he needs to finish the mural. The concert is a success.
The very loose plot of WILD STYLE serves mainly as an excuse for rap-and-dance numbers and the sight of prominent East Coast graffiti artists playing themselves, sometimes with magnetism and panache (Brathewaite), sometimes without (everybody else). Filmmaker Charlie Ahearn reportedly first met "Lee" Quinones while trying to do a Super-8mm martial-arts pic, and cast most of the rest of WILD STYLE's participants from real life: avant-garde gallery owner Niva Kislac, Old School rap legend Grandmaster Flash, East Village regular Patti Astor and so on. The mix of scripted and mumbly improvised dialogue won't do anything to tarnish John Cassavettes' reputation. In fact, Ahearn stated that his inspirations were "populist" MGM musicals like ON THE TOWN (1949). To that end, he deliberately glossed over rampant crime and drug use in the 'hood, although there is a queasy moment in which blonde, white Virgina nearly gets shot by Phade's homeboy for being on the wrong turf. But compared to later street dramas like JUICE (1992), MENACE II SOCIETY (1993), FRESH (1994) and others, and their grim association of rap, rage, and gangbang murder, WILD STYLE is positively sweet-natured in the way rival posses of Cold Crush Brothers and Grandmaster Flash duel each other with boisterous freestyle verbalizing instead of guns. Made on 16mm for a $200,000 budget (part of which had to be raised from German and British investors; so little did Americans think of the subject matter), WILD STYLE generated an influential soundtrack that was sampled on recordings for decades afterwards, while the graffiti theme tapped into a craze for tagger art that made 1980s luminaries out of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Subsequent imitators that sought to catch WILD STYLE's vibe included BEAT STREET (1984) and KRUSH GROOVE (1985). (Profanity, substance abuse, sexual situations.)
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- Released: 1983
- Rating: R
- Review: The novelty of the crudely-fashioned WILD STYLE is that it captured a lost era before inner-city rap music, hip-hop, and breakdancing became so ludicrously commercialized that even the Addams Family and Don Ameche (the latter in COCOON) turned into exempla… (more)