Wild Style

With the Wild Style 25th Anniversary Edition DVD now available in stores, Charlie Ahearn speaks on his groundbreaking film, hip-hop around the globe and Bongo Barbershop. link

Let’s start talking about Wild Style. Just for those that don’t know, what was your role in the film?

I was the writer, director, and producer of the project, which is sort of a full suite. The film was made with Fab Five Freddy [Bathwaite]. Fred Bathwaite and I came together to make the film in June of 1980. But I made films previously, and he was often working by himself as a painter and doing other things so I took up the reigns of the traditional responsibilities. He was around during a great deal of the production. He helped a lot with the music, and he also was one of the lead characters in the film.

Going back to making the film, what was your goal when you set out and started writing and had this idea for Wild Style? What did you hope to communicate through the film?

I think we were thinking about bringing this Hip Hop culture to the world. I think right from the very beginning our career was very local in the sense that I wanted to show this film on 42nd street in New York City, which is called The Deuce. It’s the place where Kung Fu movies are shown. It’s a place where crews from all boroughs would come to see Kung Fu movies and other action movies. My goal was very local that I wanted the film to be shown in Times Square in 42nd street. In a way we accomplished that when we premiered the film there in 1983 in Times Square. But in a larger sense, right from the very beginning we started to get interested in the film project from England, and Germany, and later from Japan. So, there was definitely a sense like Hip Hop was going to be a world culture. I wanted to make a film that communicated its completeness as a culture in the sense that it had a visual component being the graffiti writing. It had a music component in the Deejaying. It had a dance component in the b-boying, and most importantly, the emceeing was a whole rhythmic and lyrical art form that had been developed there in the Bronx, in a way that was very original. That was the main thing, just to bring the whole picture of it as a culture out to the world.

How do you feel about how Hip Hop has changed since Wild Style? What do you think of its natural progression to its point now?

Well, of course it’s had 25 years of development, and for the most part the development that people are most aware, and that the public sees, is the way that Hip Hop is a multi-billion dollar industry, MTV, VH1, that kind of thing and the way that artists portray themselves. But there’s a whole really important picture of Hip Hop that’s right below the surface. That appears in communities in Brazil, or Africa, in communities where Hip Hop has become the voice of people that need to be heard and don’t have the where-with-all to get that voice. Hip Hop has become an incredibly important vehicle visually because of the graffiti movement, and lyrically in terms of the emceeing that’s going on in languages all over the world where there’s a whole kind of culture that represents people that previously have been deprived because of visibility. That’s really the big story. I’m proud that the culture functions. In that scene at the end of the movie is a pretty good blueprint for the way Hip Hop has been able to function in the world of today.

see also:
Wild Style 25th Anniversary Edition
Wild Style – The Sampler
Bongo Barbershop: Featuring Grandmaster Caz and Balozi Dola (Film Screening 2/8 @ 6pm, Washington D.C.)