When asked about his method of DJing, the iconic Grandmaster Flash responded, “What I would do is pick the most climatic or the strongest, the funkiest part of the record, and just continuously repeat that part over and over again.” This must be the same strategy used by directors Bran Van Splunteren and Charlie Ahearn of Big Fun in the Big Town and Wild Style, respectively. Both of these films were featured at Tuesday night’s installment of the Dummy Clap Film Festival, part of the six-day Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, taking place from July 9-14. In these films, both directors were able to capture some of the best moments of 1980’s hip hop and play them over and over again.
Big Fun in the Big Town was released in 1986, and was filmed by Dutch producers for Dutch TV. The film has recently resurfaced, and is making major waves in the hip hop scene. The film is a documentary that includes some of hip hop’s greats, such as the aforementioned Grandmaster Flash, MC Shan, Roxanne Shante, Biz Markie, LL Cool J, Last Poets and more. Interviewer Marcel Vanthilt provided a platform for these rappers to open up about their craft, their aspirations, even allowing them to express their feelings about the socioeconomic state of New York City at the time. By including short interviews with bystanders, Vanthilt was also able to capture the local opinion of the hip hop movement during these formative years.
At one point, a neighbor of Doug E. Fresh spoke to the camera, expressing his confusion about the new music, but noting his appreciation that the youth had something other to do than sell drugs. Dennis Bell, teacher at Truman High School in the Bronx, gave his explanation of hip hop, stating that a lack of funding and traditional music lessons forced the youth to create a music that didn’t require what they lack.
After the movie, a panel discussion commenced, including Bill Alder of Def Jam, Amy Linden, acclaimed hip hop journalist Jefferson “Chairman” Mao of Ego Trip. Bill Alder was clearly in a nostalgic mood after the viewing, but was able to provide unique insight into the filming, because it was him that Van Splunteren approached in 1984 about doing a documentary featuring artists that were signed to Def Jam. Alder took the audience on trip down memory lane, sharing personal experiences and feelings about hip hop in general.
The panel as a whole was very engaging and open to questions, even inducing a friendly debate with some audience members.
Wild Style was released in 1983 and walks a fine line between a narrative and a documentary. Charlie Ahearn commented, “It’s something different for each person that watches it.” The general purpose of the movie is to take a closer look at hip hop as a culture. As hip hop music evolved, it created its own culture, encompassing dance, art, and fashion. Charlie Ahearn and Fab 5 Freddy, who he described as integral to the movie making process, saw the culture of hip hop and made a movie that captured the best parts of it.
The movie features scenes from various rap performances by groundbreaking artists, including The Cold Crush Brothers, The Rock Steady Crew, Pop o Matics, Double Trouble and more. Additionally, there are clips of subway art illustrating the “WildStyle” Graffiti movement as well as clips of break dancers in action. The plot of the movie is centered on Lee Quiñones, one of more notable artists to come out of the WildStyle movement. His character, Raymond, is trying to figure out how to make money from his paintings. His friend Fade (played by Fab 5 Freddie), introduces him to connections in the art scene, as well as a reporter. The story follows Fade and Raymond on their adventures through the Bronx, and concludes with a performance of Double Trouble, Fantastic Freaks, and The Cold Crush Brothers at an amphitheater painted by Raymond, with b-boying at the center, and everyone in the latest fashion.
The panel discussion after Wild Style was moderated by Popmaster Fabel, and included director Charlie Ahearn, Lil Rodney Cee of Double Trouble and Kevie Kev of Fantastic Freaks. Charlie Ahearn shared his awe at the coming together of what he always knew would be a great movie. His speech was so animated and excited, that audience members were easily caught up in the magic of it. Lil’ Rodney Cee expressed his appreciation for the movie and for Charlie Ahearn, revealing that Wild Style was the debut of Double Trouble after their split from The Funky Four Plus One. Kevie Kev talked about the friendly beef between Fantastic Freaks and The Cold Crush Brothers.
The three panel members talked not only about the movie, but about their current and future endeavors. Charlie Ahearn hinted at the possibility of a prequel to Wild Style while Kevie Kev and Lil’ Rodney Cee talked about a joint project, The Great Groundbreakers, which is an organization that includes many more rap pioneers and raises money for health and dental insurance for those of them that are lacking.
The Dummy Clap Film Festival continues Friday, July 13, and will include short films, including acclaimed writer Nelson George’s Brooklyn Boheme, as well as The Infamous Mobb Deep, a documentary by Rooster NY, which will include an appearance by Mobb Deep’s Prodigy.
For more on the Dummy Clap Film Festival and the entire Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival, visit www.bkhiphopfestival.com.