Monday, February 11, 2013

Beat Street (1984) and Krush Groove (1985) an Awesome Amalgamation of B-Boys, Hip-Hop and Grafitti!

When we talk about movies that capture an era, we’re talking about those movies that instantly catapult you back to that time and place they take place in. Some movies of this nature recreate an era, while others capture it as it unfolds.  For example, Grease (1978) is a film that was made in the 70’s but was trying to re-capture the rock and roll era of the 50’s while films like Beat Street for example, they capture a moment in time as it was happening, in its purest form, no fakeness involved. The problem with films that try and recreate an era is that sometimes they end up exaggerating everything to the point where the representation becomes nothing more than a cartoon version of the real thing.  Beat Street and Krush Groove where two films that captured that time and place in which hip-hop and rap where just getting started, and breakin’ was the newest dance in town.

I was lucky enough to have lived in The Bronx during the mid 80’s, a cool time to be living there if there ever was any. This was the birthplace of hip-hop and breakin’. I got to see firsthand b-boys and b-girls dancing on the streets of the Bronx, breakin’ their days away. This was the time when hip hoppers carried their boom boxes on their shoulders, and wore nothing but Adidas or Pumas. I’d walk up to the corner store to buy some candy (I was just a kid) and sure enough, there would be a b-boy breakin’ on a cardboard box right there on the side walk. As a kid, I was amazed by all of it, because these dance moves were really difficult to pull off! If you didn’t do them just right, chances are you could break your neck! Still, I loved seeing those dance battles happening in the school yard! I remember as a kid trying to spin like a b-boy in my living room floor, hoping to maybe one day become as good as them, I never did, but hey, I had my day in the sun!  I remember Breakin’ was all about the attitude, yet, it was all friendly. Dance teams defied each other, but it was always in good fun. As one of the characters in Beat Street says “There are far worse things these boys could be doing then dancing!”

Now, because of this Breakin’ craze that took over New York and the world, well, of course, Hollywood had to take a bite out of it. Suddenly there was this race to make a movie, to cash in on the whole thing. The thing about fad movies is that sometimes in order to come out before the fad fades away, they are made in a hurry and sadly they end up not being very good. I can mention many examples, Lambada (1990) and The Forbidden Dance (1990) both of which were made to cash in on the whole Lambada craze of the late 80’s and 90’s. That’s another thing about fad movies, they always come in two’s and sometimes in three’s, because there’s always more than one studio looking to cash in on the craze. This is why we have Breakin’ (1984), Beat Street (1984), Krush Groove (1985) and Rappin’ (1985). A prime example of a bad fad movie is Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (1984), which while fun to watch (because it is so bad) the film is a joke of the era that it’s trying to represent, a Hollywood rendition of what they thought Breakin’ and b-boying was all about. Hell, this rush job of a sequel was filmed, edited and put in theaters in less then seven months after the first one hit theaters! Boy did this movie get it wrong! It lacked that street cred that Beat Street had in spades.

That’s what I enjoy about Beat Street, it just feels so genuine. We follow a group of kids who are all struggling to survive in the streets of The Bronx. One of them is ‘Double K’ a D.J. who’s looking to become a ‘superstar’ with his rhymes and his music. He is big brother to ‘Lee’ the youngest of the group, who also happens to be an extremely talented b-boy. Mind you, Lee is not a ‘break dancer’, because the term break dancer or break dancing is an offense to b-boys and girls of the world, it is a term that Hollywood and the media came up with to commercialize the whole thing. To those who like to Break, you are a b-boy or a b-girl, never a break dancer, you don’t break dance, you break. Then we have ‘Ramon’ a.k.a. ‘Ramo’, a Puerto Rican graffiti artist who likes to plaster his art on the trains of New York City, he was a continuing battle with his father, who tells Ramo to get a real job and stop being a delinquent. Ramo thinks otherwise, to him his train graffiti is art, and art is not a crime. Ramo is also struggling with finding a place for his girl and his baby, problem is he doesn’t have a job! Beat Street effectively mixes the world of Breakin’ and Graffiti art with the struggles of the less fortunate. Some of the characters in the film are squatters, living in abandoned buildings, some dance on the streets for money. But they all dream big. As Lee and Double K’s mother says to them at one point “you can keep your dreams gentlemen, but you gotta have something to fall back on”.   

Highly recommend you guys watch a documentary called Style Wars (1983), which follows a group of graffiti artists through New York City as they paint their graffiti on the walls and trains of New York. The documentary shows the emotion these kids felt when they saw a train passing by and their art was traveling down the rails with it. It’s an awesome documentary; highly recommend it because it truly captured the essence of what it meant to be a graffiti artist in New York, during the late 70’s early 80’s. In some ways, Beat Street is a film version of that documentary; the influence of Style Wars on Beat Street is strongly felt.  Graffiti had to be a part of a film like Beat Street because at the time, Graffiti, Breakin’, Hip Hop and New York were all laced together. Breakin’ and graffiti went hand in hand with each other, they were part of the same world. If you were a b-boy, chances are you also did some graffiti.

The film showcases some truly talented b-boys doing their thing, there’s this whole scene that takes place inside of a New York dance club called ‘The Roxy’ that’s simply amazing, the dance moves these kids pulled off! You gotta see it to believe it, made me wish I was right there at that moment in time. You can tell this is the real deal here, these are true b-boys doing their thing, and the filmmakers were lucky enough that they got these street kids to do the real thing for them.  Then there’s the music, which was awesome. Many of these films (especially Krush Groove) had entire scenes devoted to a musical act. Basically, the film stops and the band that’s playing on stage takes over the movie. In this case we get Kool Moe Dee, Afrika Bambataa, boy, Afrika Bambataa really stirs up a party when they get up on stage! Awesome scene!

A theme that runs through both of these movies is the theme of “making it”, following your dream and becoming a super star by doing what you love. While Beat Street was all about graffiti and breakin’, Krush Groove was more about the music world itself, the side of the performer, the producer and the distributors. Krush Groove is unique in that way, because this film takes place in a time before I-Tunes and digital downloads. This was a time when if you wanted to hear an album, you had to actually physically buy it. I’ve never stopped buying albums myself, I have to admit, I enjoy actually owning a cd as opposed to simply downloading a song onto my computer. There’s some up and downs to that, for example, you can download a song, but if you don’t make a physical copy of it and your computer breaks down, then you lose that album, or you whole record collection. This is something that doesn’t happen if you physically own your albums. Then of course, there’s the coolness of album art and lyrics which usually come with a sleeve. Maybe I’m a dinasour here and I haven’t adapted well to technical advancements, but I guess I’m old fashioned that way. I like to own my albums and my books.

Krush Groove is a fictionalized account of the early days of ‘Def Jam Records’, and what’s cool for me about Krush Groove is how many of the musical groups of the 80’s hip-hop scene made it into the film. Of course, the main stars of the show are Run DMC. This is basically their story but also featured prominently are Sheila E., Kurtis Blow and The Fat Boys. I love Run DMC and all they did for hip-hop and rap, but I’ll be honest, me and my brothers where huge fans of The Fat Boys, we loved those guys, their songs were fun, and the trio themselves were also funny. They even ended up making one more film, a comedy called Disorderlies (1987). Re-watching Krush Groove and seeing The Fat Boys again was like going back in time to when I was about ten years old! In retrospect, I think it was not such a good idea for The Fat Boys to take pride in being overweight. There is this scene in the movie where The Fat Boys are depressed because they lose in a singing contest, so to cheer themselves up, they go to a Pizzeria and basically eat their hearts out. They stuff their mouths with pizza and pasta as they sing their song “All you can eat”. Gotta be honest, that scene comes off as gross now, it portrays an unhealthy fixation on food, the word “gluttony” came to mind. It felt wrong for these guys to promote the idea of pigging out on food like there’s no tomorrow. I enjoy food as much as the next guy, but there’s an unhealthy danger in over indulging the way these guys did. I know they are called ‘The Fat Boys’ but the whole scene, and the message they transmitted with it, just felt wrong. I did a search on The Fat Boys for this article, I was sad to discover that one of them, Darren Robinson, a.k.a. “The Human Beat Box” died of a heart attack in 1995. Also, Mark Morales, the Puerto Rican Fat Boy, well, he’s lost some weight and aint all that fat anymore!

Beasty Boys in the house 

Aside from these groups that I mentioned, LL COOL J also makes his feature film debut in Krush Groove. Apparently he wasn't all that big yet, but they gave him a five minute spotlight where they let him do his thing; which made me think that this film is filled with lots of groups who were hungry to get into the spotlight and everybody wanted to get on board! In that way, this film also reminded me of films like Purple Rain (1984) and Fame (1980), films about talented people who know they got what it takes and want the world to know it! Even The Beasty Boys also make a brief appearance! It was funny to hear some people “booing” them when they went on stage, I guess the idea of white rappers wasn’t all that popular yet. The thing about Krush Groove is that it might not be the best acted film, but it has a lot of heart, a lot of talented people involved and it also captures that time, the mid 80’s when musical acts took pride in being eccentric, loud and bombastic. This is something I miss in today’s music and films for that matter. Highly recommend checking out both of these movies, they captured the 80’s in a spray can!

Rating Beat Street: 4 out of 5

Rating Krush Groove: 3 ½ out of 5   


Jack Thursby said...

Great reviews. Love your personal anecdotes. Must have been really cool to live in the Bronx during the 80s.

Never heard of either of these films but will definitely try and check them out.

Franco Macabro said...

Living in The Bronx during those years was a special time in deed, running to the train station magazine stand to buy comic books, that's what it was all about in those days!

Beat Street is the best of the bunch, I mean there where a group of movies made about the same era, but Beat Street is the King of the Beat.

Unknown said...

Great review! Your words and memories take me back to catching BREAKIN' and BEAT STREET when they came out in theaters. Good times.

But you're right, BEAT STREET is definitely the best of the bunch. It has a gritty, authentic feel that the others don't have or try and fail to achieve. It helps that the cast was made up largely unknowns. I don't think Rae Dawn Chong had done much at that point. But it helps you believe that these actors are really these characters.

Franco Macabro said...

Agree J.D., the fact that most of the cast is made up of unknowns works like magic, their performances come off as fresh and authentic. Rae Dawn Chong last acting jobe before Beat Street was a film called Quest for Fire which by the way is one of the best performances of her life, that movie is so underrated, I reviewed it a while back, highly recommend it.

1stLadyred said...

Love this movie. I highly recommend this movie to all 80's baby.


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