Carlo's Corner: 80's Hip-Hop Culture
My plan here is to take y’all through my thoughts on a couple of loosely connected movies. These connections can range from directors, actors, composers, franchises, recurring topics… basically anything goes. In case I don’t happen across any interesting rabbit holes I’ll simply do a rundown of a few recent noteworthies. I do tend to gravitate towards the exploitation genre, and my favorite movie period is ’84 - ’95, so that should give you an indication of what’s in store. Also yes, I will absolutely slip in a Simpsons reference as often as possible. I’d say I’m sorry or that I’m kidding but I wanna get off on the right foot by being upfront with you guys.
It’s been more than a year now since I started doing these write-ups on Letterboxd, and when Jenna and Veronica asked me to join The Club™ I figured it was time to step up my game! So there you go, and here I am; kicking things off with a sub-genre that’s very near and dear to me: 80’s hip-hop culture.
Beat Street was the last movie I logged in 2016 (on Dec 31th no less) because I just wanted some good vibes to bang the year out with. I guess I could’ve put on my history of hip-hop collection, but if you ask me there ain’t nothin’ like the union of music and motion. Also I didn’t want to end the year on another stinker (I’m looking at you, Assault on Precinct 13 remake).
Story-wise Beat Street follows the ups and downs of a group of creative friends in the South Bronx at the dawning of “golden age” hip-hop culture. You’ve got your breakdancer, your DJ, your graffiti artist, your self-appointed manager whose clothing style can best be described as “Sherlock Homeboy,” and even some guy who’s either a plumber, drummer, or bodyguard (probably all three). I remembered liking Beat Street a lot when I first saw it a couple of years ago, but this was way before I started keeping a diary of my thoughts on movies and apparently I’d forgotten that it just so happens to take place between Christmas and New Year's Eve. Now who said there ain’t no Sanity Clause?
Not only does Beat Street become the perfect window to a specific time and place–with its snowy Bronx backdrop, dilapidated concrete turned party venues, bent steel turned canvases and a real humdinger of a soundtrack–I firmly believe a strict narrative would have only distracted from its message of self-expression (and more importantly: 10-minute breakdance battles). This isn’t about self-indulgence, but a need to break free from societal constraints, even if chasing that great white [TRAIN] ends up killing you. Whatever you do, you can’t let the streets beat you.
While Beat Street is about self-expression and the collective DNA of a culture, Krush Groove is more focused on ego, personal gain, and claims to fame. Oh, and music. A lot of GREAT music. Where did all that music come from? Well, what you’ve got here is basically a very loosely dramatized retelling of how producer Russell Simmons (big brother to Joseph “Run” Simmons of Run DMC) co-founded Def Jam Records. Names were changed, facts became fiction, yaddi yadda, it’s not trying to fool anybody here.
Look, I’m not going to pretend to have any objectivity about movies like this. I have my own opinions about whether or not you can actually assess The Arts objectively–I mean, what are ya’, some sort of a computer? My point is: Krush Groove isn’t so much a movie as it is a showcase for artists like Sheila E, The Fat Boys, Run DMC, LL Cool J, and Kurtis Blow, and therefore it is perfect regardless of its narrative failings. There’s no noble message here, no conflict that’s worth getting caught up in. All this is, is an easy breezy good time that almost makes Beat Street seem profound (it is, shut up). There are feeble attempts at drama but it’s simply a lot more fun when it’s kicking back with a song from The Fat Boys about encouraging obesity.
At the end of the day, that’s all you really need to win me over: some guy using bread rolls to beatbox. Don’t @ me with your highfalutin’ life lessons, I’m a crotchety old man and I won’t have it, sagternit.
You know it’s kinda telling that I could hardly remember what Breakin’ was about minutes after I’d finished re-watching it. Honestly both movies are barely about anything beyond “three people who are good at dancing dance because of reasons,” so I’m sure you’ll understand my covering them in the same breath.
Nevertheless I’ll always have a special place in my heart for this “duology” (ooh la la), as it was my first exposure to what I like to call Unintentional Comedies. You know, the types of movies people like to claim are “so bad they’re good.” Except I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a load of cowplop. Either you enjoy and assess a thing based on its own merits, or you don’t. Well, perhaps Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is an exception, but that has snowballed into something I can only explain using a Dutch word called “uitlachtelevisie,” which literally translates to “laugh-at TV.”
Maybe I’m at a point where I’m not seeing it anymore, but these aren’t movies that make me laugh-at so much as they make me genuinely smile. As tough as it is to give a sincere recommendation, I’m perpetually charmed by them and I adore the characters. Lucinda Dickey? In It 2 Win It. Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quinones? #SWAG. Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers? Geez, guys. If you’re any kind of purveyor of quality entertainment you owe it to yourself to seek out Turbo’s ridiculous dance-routines on the in’ernette.
It’s such a shame then that the first movie is so plagued by muddled motivations! I mean it’s not like I’m expecting a thesis in screenwriting here, but at least in the 15-minute interval before filming the sequel someone was smart enough to come up with an overarching save-the-community-center structure. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still laden with mindless padding, but apparently I’m more than okay with that so long as it means a non-stop barrage of well-choreographed dance-scenes.
Which brings me to another thing: why is it called Breakin’ when there’s way more poppin’ and lockin’ and aimless limb-flingin’ than actual breakdancing? Must be the same reason that no one dances the lambada in Lambada. Now I’m not saying the people at Cannon Films were incompetent, but authenticity was hardly their first concern and these are definitely more the rule than the exception.
For some other movies to explore if you enjoyed these, check out: Knights of the City (1986), Rappin’ (1985), Body Rock (1984), Disorderlies (1987), The Last Dragon (1985), Style Wars (1983), Wild Style (1983), and Tougher Than Leather (1988).