Wild Style is the first hip-hop movie and one of the more important pop culture artifacts from the ‘80s. This low-budget classic directed by Charlie Ahearn introduced the world to underground New York DJs, MCs, and breakers whose music, style and language soon made an indelible mark on the world. Big Shot asked Ahearn to go back 25 years and talk about the film, which he reflects upon in Wild Style The Sampler.
Which came first: your interest in film or passion for music?
Charlie Ahearn: In the mid ‘70s, I was very interested in silent films such as the great Russian director Dziga Vertov’s revolutionary film Man With A Movie Camera, which used these super-dynamic vibrant images of common people in a vast cityscape coming alive. See it and be amazed. That got me interested in activist filmmaking, where I would shoot in silent 16mm film and return later with my 16mm projector and project the images in the housing project.
“I wanted to make something which reflected the aspirations of the martial arts kids with their fantasies from watching all those cool king fu movies in Chinatown and on The Deuce (42nd St.).”
One of those excursions was in the Smith Housing Projects gymnasium where Lee [Quinones, the graf star of Wild Style] had painted a huge mural inside). It was a summer night in 1977 and the DJs were playing a deafening James Brown “Soul Power” and there were lines of guys facing each other dropping to their ankles in unison. I was pretty stoked by the sight and returned back the next week to project some of those images on the wall. That led me to working with the local martial arts school on my super 8mm epic The Deadly Art of Survival, which had a sound stripe and so could contain dialogue, etc. I wanted to make something which reflected the aspirations of the martial arts kids with their fantasies from watching all those cool king fu movies in Chinatown and on The Deuce (42nd St.).