Style Wars (1983)

Sam Haine is simply a writer born on the East Coast who enjoys cooking. He is the contributor of the monthly Retro Movie Review and the recurring ‘Remember This…’


Style Wars Poster (1983)

Style Wars Poster (1983)

Originally aired on PBS television on January 18th, 1984, and was subsequently shown in several film festivals to much acclaim, including theVancouver Film Festival. It also won the Grand Jury Prize: Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival. 

            Style Wars was the original Graffiti VHS you had to have if you were into the culture and state of mind. Unless you were a toy then, you probably borrowed it from somebody else. See back in the early 80’s, graffiti began to become notorious in New York City. Not because, it was born there, no; graffiti started in Philadelphia. But, because New York City at that time was still the epicenter of art and sub-culture in the United States. 


 Who knew that so much creativity was bubbling under the surface of abandoned buildings, squats, shooting galleries, pissy gutters, blackouts, illegal tattoo parlors and just utter-desolation and dreary landscapes of New York City. 

            This film is a favorite of mine. Why? - Because I like graffiti. I like going out and engaging in minor late night bombin’ excursions. No, I’m not a modern day Rembrandt. And I’m far from the modern writers capable of autographing their personal hieroglyphic marks on public and private property with lettering and handstyles so esoteric they resemble magic sigils. 

 Style Wars shows both the young artists struggling to express themselves through their art, and their points of view on the subject of graffiti, as well as their views of then New York City Mayor Ed Koch, one-armed, now deceased graffiti writer Case/Kase 2, graffiti writer Skeme and his mother, graffiti "villain" Cap, now deceased graffiti writer Dondi, Seen and Shy 147, graffiti documentarian (and co-producer of the film) Henry Chalfant, breakdancer Crazy Legs of Rock Steady Crew, police officers, art critics, subway maintenance workers, as well as several "people on the street". 

            This film is a time capsule snapshot of a time that many people have heard wonderful stories about but, few every experienced. When MTA train fares was $.75 and we used tokens before metrocards. This was the time when you couldn’t see a naked wall on a train car or anywhere on the street. Kids and crews were out wreaking havoc and it was beautiful to think about, when you have to ride the sterile/lifeless public transportation we have now in the city.   

Featured graffiti artists: 

Demon, Se3, Spank, Dez, Skeme, Ces 157, Min 1 (NE), Iz the Wiz, Quik, Sach, Dondi, Seen, Kase2, DUSTER UA, Zephyr, Revolt, Wasp 1, Noc, Kase, D-5, Kosco, Trap, Butch, Zone, Kid 167, Cap, Spooks One, Shy 147, Seen TC5, Mare 139, Daze, Crash, Paze, Cey, Futura, Fred, Duro, Taki 183 

            What is there to say? It’s the documentary to all future documentaries, Graff movies, magazines and definitely worth mentioning in our Retro Movie library and worth your time and attention. 

            So gather around, you daydreaming aeroholics, and fest your eyes on the way things used to be in NYC before the yuppies, bridge & tunnel crowds, transplants, and the wasted opportunity and expensive ways of life came into the city.  Stay fresh, stay chill and keep your four finger rings on that damn rewind button.