Film still from Stations of The Elevated (Photo via Artists Public Domain)
In the 1970s, German filmmaker Manfred Kirchheimer had no idea that the art he was filming on New York City’s subway trains in the South Bronx, covered in bright colors and and characters, would become an accepted (mostly), and inspirational art-form that would be practiced around the world. As the borough was reeling from the “Bronx is Burning” days of arson and crime, Kirchheimer was also unsure whether his proposal to the American Film Institute (his 22nd application) would be accepted, especially when it was needed to make a film about something most people (including new Mayor Ed Koch, who wanted guard dogs to protect the train cars) found to be the work of criminals and delinquents.
To his surprise, Kirchheimer did receive the $10,000 grant from the AFI. Kirchheimer found that the messages on the trains were more than just vandalism, but an expression of the writers lives and experiences, a “scream from the ghetto” to anyone who took the time to look up. On Friday June 27th, the Brooklyn Academy of Music will show, for the first time since its premiere at the 1981 NY Film Festival, Stations of The Elevated, the first documentary of the underground graffiti movement.
Unlike the films and documentaries before it (Style Wars, Wild Style, Exit Through the Gift Shop) this film is not a collection of talking heads going through the history of graffiti, but a 45 minute visual poem of the late 70s in NYC. With no dialogue, the director shows a contrast of the legal art of billboards, which try to sell us on fantasies and physical ideals and the illegal art made from Bronx legends Daze, Blade, Seen and others, which show us what the artists think of their living conditions and bleak futures.
The restoration will premiere to the public as part of the 2014 BAM Cinemafest and will feature a live performance of the Mingus Dynasty, a collection of Jazz musicians who perform the work of Charles Mingus, whose music makes up the majority of the documentary’s score.
All film stills from Stations of The Elevated via Artists Public Domain
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