Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Film Review: BEAT STREET (1984, Stan Lathan)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 105 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Rae Dawn Chong, written by Andrew Davis (the director of action favorites such as UNDER SIEGE, CODE OF SILENCE, and THE FUGITIVE, and cinematographer of Paul Bartel's directorial debut, PRIVATE PARTS).
Tag-lines: "The music and break-dance explosion of the summer!"
Best one-liners: "You better eat your eggs before I break your legs."

BEAT STREET is a completely sincere, loving appreciation and depiction of early 80's outsider art in New York. There are some fantastic fashions, wrap-around sunglasses, neon colors, a subway breakin' battle, and spit-take inducing virtuosic dance moves, but this is an art film.

Comparing it to BREAKIN' 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO or BODY ROCK (as awesome as those movies are) is like comparing THE SEVENTH SEAL to BILL AND TED'S BOGUS JOURNEY. This is about creating underground art, and our characters include a graffiti artist, a DJ (back when that could be still be categorized as art), a composer/choreographer (played by a young, vibrant Rae Dawn Chong), and a breakdance crew.

The story unfolds with the simplicity of Altman or Renoir, passing from scene to scene, from character to character with complete fluidity and naturalism.

Conflict arises in a variety of forms: police who mistake dancing for fighting, the sleazy business end of art, and a Nihilistic tagger named "Spit." The character of Spit, only briefly glimpsed, becomes a malevolent presence in the film, not unlike the red-coated figure in DON'T LOOK NOW. A talentless tagger who defaces the beautiful murals of our protagonist, Spit is as inscrutable as he is detestable. Not only do our outsider artists have to deal with "The Man," but also the frustrating concept of an unskilled vandal, masquerading as one of them. And thus is the plight of marginalized self-expression. Four stars. Only prevented from a fifth by some very questionable choices made by (hopefully) non-actors.

-Sean Gill

3 comments:

ebunoluwa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ebunoluwa said...

Great review. Beat Street is a classic and one of my favorites, of all times. Did you know that b-boys Crazy Legs and Ken Swift from Rock Steady Crew ("Bronx Rockers" in the movie) also went on Letterman to promote the film?

Here's a clip of them on the show: http://www.celebreak.net/2008/11/ken-swift-and-crazy-legs-on-david-letterman-in-1984/

Sean Gill said...

Thanks! I was not aware of the Letterman appearance, and that clip is terrific.