Tuesday, December 9, 2008

80 Blocks From Tiffany's

I've heard about this movie for a long time. Its an ultra rare (it sells on used VHS for $300 on Amazon) documentary by Gary Weis, originally released in 1979. Weis actually worked on Saturday Night Live and this was his side project, an intense, down to earth look at the embattled South Bronx of the 1970s. The Bronx in the 1970s was an incredible place. There will most likely never be another place like it again, as long as zombies, a plague or nukes don't decimate a major American metropolis. This is where hip hop was born, and it was the most ghetto of ghettos.

Miraculously, a video store in Boston (I won't say which one, because I don't want anyone stealing it and selling it on ebay), had this movie on the shelf. On the way home, I stopped into a liquor store for some whiskey. Little liquor stores in Boston really don't have great selections of booze, by and large. I might have to take a road trip to Kappy's to get something interesting. I decided on the blandest of the bland tonight, and went with Seagram's 7. There is really no way to describe Seagram's 7 in a positive light. I mean, sure, its "smooth", but it also has basically no flavor. For a dollar more a bottle, Evan Williams actually tastes like whiskey. Seagram's 7 tastes like whiskey flavored spring water. The little flavor it does have is syrupy and sweet, which leads me to believe that it gets its brown whiskey color from caramel sweeteners. There is little to no body, the whiskey is thin and slippery. I like my girls, and my whiskey, with the boom. I would say this is the Kate Moss of whiskeys, but she's actually really pretty, once you get past the visible ribs and chicken legs. I guess its just the cheap, really skinny girl with no personality of whiskeys.

I settled down with my nondescript whiskey to finally see this movie. I won't lie to you, I was psyched. I'm a huge hip hop person, and this movie is more hip hop than hip hop. These are the real gangsters, the real streets that all rap came from and that today's kids emulate. The locations, the interviews, the music, even the stuff they wear provides a fascinating glimpse into the South Bronx. The gangs interviewed are the Savage Skulls and the Savage Nomads. We meet the leaders of both gangs (Hollywood for the Skulls and Crazy Joe for the Nomads). We also meet several active members of both gangs, like D.S.R., Outlaw Manny, Frankenstein, Jamal and Fly. There are interviews with female gang members like India and shorty, and ex-female member Evelyn. There are interviews and on the beat footage with Youth Gang Task Force cop Bob Werner, community activist Joan and a former club owner named Heavy.

This is an incredible documentary. It ended after a scant 70 minutes, but easily could have gone on for hours and I would have been just as fascinated. If there has ever been an obscure documentary that screamed louder for the big time fancy loaded with extras DVD treatment, I've yet to hear of it. Where do I begin? This is just the raw, real street shit, from another time and another place. One thing that really amazed me was the overall positivity of the scene. It seemed like hard drugs had yet to really screw these neighborhoods up. That would come a few years later, when crack stepped onto the scene. These kids weren't choir boys, they robbed, fought, killed, raped, pillaged. But the whole community seems to be striving for something better, and the gang members are part of the community. These are just lost kids looking for a home, and the gangs provide them with some semblance of a family.

The cop, Bob Werner, seems to care about the kids, he's not out to harass these kids or screw their lives up any worse than they already are. Conversely, the gang members respect the cops for doing their jobs, and only get pissed off when their friends get sent to jail for crimes they didn't commit. Its a shockingly mature and intelligent stance in this age of SWAT teams and Stop Snitchin. These gang members come across as being very smart, on a whole. There is little false bravado and posturing, when compared to today's wannabe gangsters.

There are literally too many great quotes and scenarios to list in a review. This film definitely is one of the best inner-city documentaries I've ever seen. I give it my highest recommendation, if you can find it. You can definitely find Seagram's 7 anywhere, and I don't recommend it. Unless you like your whiskey really bland. I know that this film is extremely hard to find from my own experience with it, but its a must see.

Here's the first 8 and a half minutes. I think the entire thing's on youtube. That's not the same as finding the real VHS, though.

1 comment:

jomilkman said...

i'll have to loan you 'can't stop, won't stop' if you haven't had a chance to read it yet. goes into really great detail about many facets of late '70s bronx