Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tuesday Night in Grand Army Plaza: The 8th Annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival presents Dummy Clap Film Festival Double Feature, "Wild Style" + "Big Fun in the Big Town" at the Brooklyn Central Library

After going home for a much-needed nap and early dinner, we returned to the Dweck Center at the Brooklyn Public Library's Central Library in Grand Army Plaza for more of today's events from the eighth annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, a Dummy Clap Film Festival double feature of two films that harken back decades ago to the early years of Hip-Hop culture, the 1986 Dutch TV documentary Big Fun in the Big Town and the 1982 film that's often referred to as "the first Hip-Hop motion picture, Wild Style", about Bronx graffiti writers, b-boys and MCs, featuring some of the seminal figures of the era, with director Charlie Aherne on hand to discuss his work, now just about thirty years old.
It was a wonderful evening, both the screening of the films and the lively and enlightening discussions afterward. Here's what the New York Times had to say about Big Fun in the Big City:
A 1986 Dutch television film about New York hip-hop, it’s an unlikely and impressively nonvoyeuristic look at a scene that was flirting with tremendous success but was still intimate. Directed by Bram van Splunteren and featuring a wry Marcel Vanthilt as host, it’s full of amusing interactions. They find LL Cool J, oozing swagger, at his grandmother’s house in Queens. A patient Doug E. Fresh beatboxes for them on a Harlem street corner. The film is now commercially available for the first time, and it will have a rare screening on July 10 at the Dweck Center for Contemporary Culture at the Brooklyn Central Library, at Grand Army Plaza, as part of the eighth annual Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival.
Refreshingly, all the issues that pervade hip-hop today were present then: commerce versus message; artist versus record label; and of course, authenticity. Russell Simmons, early hip-hop entrepreneur and social re-engineer, says defensively, “I don’t know that Diana Ross produced or wrote any of her songs.”
The fascinating panel discussion afterwards featured veterans of the early hip-hop years Ego Trip's Chairman Mao, Def Jam's first publicist Bill Adler, and hip-hop journalist Amy Linden. Later (after our phone's battery died and we couldn't take any more blurry pics), after Wild Style, director Charlie Aherne was joined by people who took part in the film or were from that era, such as Fantastic Five's Kevie Kev, Pop Master Fabel, Double Trouble's Rodney Cee, not as "Lil" as he was in this winning clip of the stoop rap: We'd never seen Wild Style before, and it was wonderful. Finally we recognized where parodies and recreations of the "basketball battle" came from. Here's something from the New York Times on Wild Style's 25th anniversary:
Fans talk about the movie as if it were a documentary, which it is not. But Mr. Ahearn cast real artists, musicians and dancers who were all-city legends, like the Cold Crush Brothers, Lee QuiƱones and Lady Pink, in the movie. They may have been reciting lines from a script (most likely written the night before), but they had a charisma that could not be faked. He brought them together in a heightened reality on screen, conjuring a world in which graffiti writers, rappers, break dancers and turntable wizards ruled the streets, clubs and train yards.
“This film was a projection of our dreams,” Mr. Ahearn said. “There was nothing out there that showed all these artists together in one scene. It was only later that people began to look at it as some sort of documentary. But at first, we were just projecting what we wanted it to be. It was our wildest dream of what could happen.”
Rappers and writers were recruited at parties in parks and clubs, where some people at first thought Mr. Ahearn was some kind of undercover police officer. At one park jam in the Northeast Bronx, the Chief Rocker Busy Bee proudly announced that he was making a movie with Mr. Ahearn, whom he had just met. Mr. Ahearn was drawn to real people, rather than professional actors, for many of the roles. He enlisted three men hanging around one club where the production was shooting and gave them roles as stickup men. They took the roles, but not the prop starter pistol Mr. Ahearn gave one of them for the scene. “I was excited because it had some weight,” Mr. Ahearn recalled. “I gave it to Pookie and he said he wouldn’t use the gun.” (Pookie actually said something most definitely not fit to print.) “I was so crestfallen,” Mr. Ahearn said. “Then Pookie leaned back, and without even opening the door or looking, he popped the seat of his car. He reached in and dragged out the most raggedy looking sawed-off shotgun. My eyes were twinkling. I am a documentarian by aesthetic, after all.”
The amphitheater concert that caps the movie was also done in the moment, after some rappers failed to show. The Treacherous Three were supposed to headline, but one of them stayed uptown when he saw his girlfriend talking to another guy. As a result, the group’s two other members — Kool Moe Dee and LA Sunshine — were relegated to standing in the background.
But then Kool Moe Dee grabbed the microphone and started urging everyone to jump, jump, jump, while LA Sunshine shouted nonstop thank-yous. “I thought a riot had broken out on stage,” Mr. Ahearn recalled. “Kool Moe Dee was Pogo-ing across the stage and everybody was following him. I’m crouched in the back behind the D.J. so the camera wouldn’t see me. I had a wad of hundred-dollar bills in my pocket to make payroll. As soon as one of the rappers came off stage, I’d roll off another $100.”
Anyway, we had a terrific time at this long day of the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival and are very grateful we got to attend.

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