While it is hard to imagine a moment when hip-hop was not predominant in both urban and suburban youth culture, there was a time when it could be termed subcultural. In fact, even before MTV latched on to it as the next big thing, one of the first vehicles for hip-hop's entry into the mainstream in the early '80s was through the musical, in such films as Wild Style (1982), Beat Street (1984), and Krush Groove (1985). Although these films are in fact musicals, film historians have rarely tackled the way in which they employ the tropes of the genre in innovative and potentially transformative ways. Instead, criticism has tended to focus on the quality of their sound tracks and the street credibility of their performers. Through an analysis of Wild Style, I intend to show how aspects of the musical genre, traditionally associated with conservative American values regarding the integration of the individual within a community, have been taken up and transformed in order to present an unusually positive view about life in the South Bronx during the early 1980s. Within the guise of a conventional backstage musical, the film jettisons the conformist values of the genre and opens up radical narrative possibilities regarding the creative appropriation of urban space by teenagers and the validation of an emergent black and Latino youth subculture.
Jane Feuer has commented on both the necessity of using genre theory and its polemic in relation to the category of the American post-1960s musical.1 For example, many musicals made in the '70s and '80s—produced following the breakup of the studio system and the genre's golden age—employed a critical appropriation of studio-era themes, songs, and characters in order to deconstruct the mythmaking machine of the American musical. Most notably, Pennies from Heaven (1981) and All That Jazz (1979) call into question the fantasy of entertainment as a positive and utopic force, thus working to demystify the ''music man'' figure of the studio era in various ways.2 Feuer also notes that, paradoxically, many post-studio-era musicals conserved very traditional aspects of the genre and used historical quotation and traditional musical structures in order to ''reconstruct'' rather than ''deconstruct'' the genre.3
Most of Feuer's examples of the 1980s teen reconstructionist musical are, as she notes, indistinguishable from the larger genre of teenpics.4 This argument is very useful and compelling when applied to mid-1980s musicals such as Flashdance (1983), Footloose (1984), and Dirty Dancing (1987). However, it does not take into account the diversification of the teen musical during this period in terms of the restructuring of racialized urban spaces. Nearly all of Feuer's examples are drawn from very popular box office smashes (except 1979's Rock 'n' Roll High School) that conform to suburban white middle-class adolescent identification.5 Yet, to be fair, she does give a nod to Spike Lee's School Daze (1988) and the racial diversity of John Waters' Hairspray (1988). Even so, there does seem to be room in this discussion for a more extended analysis of the possibility inherent in the '80s teen musical to engage with a racially diverse inner-city space of representation outside of white middle-class locales.
For example, contemporaneous with the films that make up the body of Feuer's analysis there was also a series of films aimed largely at an adolescent or young adult audience that defined itself against the predominantly white spaces and culture of the suburbs, instead staging the performative aspects of black and Latino inner-city street culture. Even in the previous decade a new vocabulary seeking to describe a specifically American urban youth-centered graffiti culture had begun to coalesce in print, for example, with T. Kochman's Rappin' and Stylin' Out: Communication in Urban Black America (1973) and Norman Mailer's The Faith of Graffiti (1974). This new cultural lexicon was also being explored in a wide variety of academic fields, including linguistics, studies of urban space, and folklore studies.6 Following from this, the films Style Wars (1983), Wild Style, Beat Street, Krush Groove, Breakin' (1984), Breakin' II: Electric Boogaloo (1984), and Rappin' (1985) all provided alternative spaces in which to imagine this emerging inner-city, youth-driven street culture.
While I have grouped these films together in terms of their reordering of white middle-class teen musical spaces as predominantly black and Latino street performance sites, they all display radically diverse production conditions and markedly different aims. Style Wars was an unscripted documentary, initially airing on television, that took a somewhat ambivalent and pa ternalistic view of the growing graffiti practice and emergent urban youth culture in New York City, while Krush Groove was a musically exciting but ultimately unsatisfying attempt to loosely portray the life of record producer Russell Simmons, his label Def Jam, and his production company.7 In the same vein of the latter film was Beat Street (produced by Harry Belafonte), Rappin', and the Breakin series. These films were more about music and having a good time, and for the most part backed by commercially driven funding, yet plot devices still often turned on issues of race and the struggle over urban spaces.8 Charlie Ahearn's Wild Style was an independent "art" film, whose funding was derived primarily from European sources, most notably the West German television station ZDF and the United Kingdom's Channel 4. This film imagined an all-rapping, all-dancing, all-painting South Bronx where performance was intimately connected with both bettering the community and personal transformation.
Ahearn's film also sought to uniquely bridge two somewhat traditionally opposed modes of filmmaking, the documentary and the musical. The result was an intensely original docudrama that challenged contemporary media visions of the South Bronx as a social problem riddled with crime and drug abuse. This film also sought to transform the stereotype of the graffiti writer from a destructive teenaged "hood" to a sensitive young artist concerned with the integrity of his work. While the immense popularity of rap today has somewhat diminished the "otherness" of such notorious and legendary hip-hop locations as the South Bronx and Compton, a review of Beat Street, a less gritty film that also takes place in the South Bronx, reveals the absolutely "foreign" territory these films introduced in the early '80s. Jim Welsh, writing in '84, avows that "Beat Street is an agreeable picture once one gets over the culture shock, overflowing with a tremendous energy and inventiveness." 9 Clearly there is a crucial territory that needs to be addressed here, a space of difference captured by these inner-city teen musicals or teenpics that is only hinted at by Feuer in her brief reference to School Daze and Hairspray.
What links these films is the cinematic exploration of hip-hop culture— graffiti, rap, spinning and mixing records, break dancing—and the potential appropriation of hitherto "white" spaces of performance culture associated with the musical. I have chosen to focus specifically on Wild Style because it managed to suggestively evoke these aspects of hip-hop culture through the negotiation of "real" urban spaces while at the same time also largely conforming to the structure of the classical Hollywood musical. Thus, by placing this film in dialogue with Feuer's notion of the teen musical as recon-structionist, I argue that Wild Style also takes on larger issues haunting the musical since its birth, that of race and the appropriation of space through performance.10
wild style: graffiti as performance
Ahearn's film opens with an image of the word "graffiti" executed in the new "wild style" of urban script that supplanted the somewhat softer and more readable bubble-style letters of the late 1970s. We then see a rope thrown down an outdoor wall with the figure of Lee Quinones, real-life legendary graffiti writer and male lead of the film, scurrying down the wall. The camera then cuts to a close-up of the face of this young artist as we hear a subway screaming by, and the sound track breaks into a chunky hip-hop beat. These shots evoke the clandestine and dangerous nature of graffiti writing, or "bombing," at night in the city. Subway sounds permeate this scene (and the entire film), attesting to the pervasive sight and sound of the trains in the South Bronx. Most of the illegal writing of graffiti in the film also takes place in train yards at night, echoing these first few scenes.
In Wild Style's initial sequence, or prologue (these images precede the credits), Raymond (Quinones) is clearly located in the space of the outsider, the artist who must work covertly at night. We also see romantic lead Rose, played by Sandra Farbara (Quinones' real-life girlfriend), inscribing her name onto a wall beside Raymond. Like Quinones, Farbara "plays" a character based on her own experiences as a young graffiti artist. The documentary aspects of this film, while largely related to emerging hip-hop culture, also chronicle the actual relationship between the two stars of the film. The couple appears together in this initial sequence; once we are inside the actual narrative space of the film, however, we learn that they are no longer together. Thus, the initial shots in Wild Style function as a thematic introductory episode that is somewhat narratively disconnected from the film. It tells the viewer what the film will be about rather than locating any specific die-getic incident. This initial sequence, almost entirely accompanied by music and animated images, sets the tone of the film as somewhat playful, but also introduces us to the romantic plot and to the main character Quinones as a brooding young artist.11 It also locates the urban as a space of performance, one which will be reincarnated many times as the film constantly reconfigures the space of the city through various modes of creative representation. In the sequence following the credits we are made aware of Raymond's graffiti identity, Zoro, as he paints an enormous image of the famed masked marauder on a subway car. We also see several Zoro images and tags around the city in a montage of images following this initial graffiti "performance." This
secret identity will come to play a major part in the narrative of the film, attaching itself to conventions of the Hollywood musical in various ways. For instance, Raymond's identity is linked to both communal and romantic disharmony, a common threat to stability in the narrative of the musical. Raymond's "unmasking" will be followed by his integration into the community, a turn symbolized by his "appearance" in the final stage number of the film. It also coincides with his eventual romantic reunification with Rose. Thus, this process of "unmasking," or redirecting a "troubling" identity, found in such "classic" musicals as Love Me Tonight (1932) and Top Hat (1935), is employed in Wild Style to satisfy the generic demands of the musical for successful romantic pairing and integration into the community.
Although the image of graffiti is ever present in these first few shots, what is underscored in this initial sequence and indeed throughout the whole film is the presence of the body, the artist at work, rather than the work itself. Instead of focusing only on the finished piece, the film emphasizes how the act of performance can situate identity both through the circulation of art or performance and through the repetition of the performance. The throwing of the rope over the wall, signifying the breaking into and getting out of a prohibited space, is as much a part of the acts of graffiti, perhaps even more so, than the finished work. Wild Style makes it clear that performing is inscribing oneself into social space. Indeed, graffiti, rap, and break dancing as evoked in this film are about struggles over performance space both in terms of the cinematic dominance of historically white representational space and in terms of struggles between different groups in predominantly black and Hispanic urban communities.
A NEW COMMUNITY, A NEW HOME
Wild Style's "crews," or teenaged gangs, traverse the city like the train cars decorated with their graffiti art, and compete with each other through break dancing, rapping, and athletics. These competitions happen in many different city spaces: the club, the street, the basketball courts, as well as the train yard. This theme of competition and performance structures nearly every aspect of the film, yet is negotiated by the confines of the traditional Hollywood musical as it incorporates aspects of both folk and backstage musi-cals.12 Film historian Rick Altman writes that the folk musical can be characterized by its emphasis on "family groupings and the home.'' He also argues that ''in many cases the action of the film is entirely limited to the type of town where everyone is a neighbor, where each season's rituals bring the entire population together.''13 The notion of a communal or family audience is central to the structure of the folk musical because it provides a model for spontaneous performance. According to Feuer and Altman, the folk musical values the quality of the amateur over the professional and imbues everyone in the community with the ability to perform.14 Being in the audience in a ''folk'' sense is participatory, a practice which erases any boundary between performer and audience. The essence of the folk musical in terms of performance seeks to tap into the desire to be a performer. Thus the constant permeation of performance space by the audience attests to the fact that the barrier to performance is in fact irrelevant.15
For example, Ahearn stages an integrated musical number on the front stoop of a home that clearly derives from a casual street encounter. We see the spontaneous song of the golden-era musical transformed into a rap performed by members of Double Trouble rather than the traditional nuclear family grouping. In this scene a young boy casually walking in the street stops to listen to their rap. He hears their ''song'' and remains transfixed, providing the audience for their doorstep performance. The camera focuses closely on the faces of the rappers for most of the scene. It then pans back to reveal the boy, our audience, dancing but also contributing to the number by snapping his fingers, keeping the beat. We hear the musical percussion of the young boy and we also hear the sounds of the city throughout the scene. Not only does the audience literally become a performer but the city as well participates in the number, underscoring the fusion of documentary and musical elements in the film. This scene presents a reconstruction and a reworking of the folk audience, the extended nuclear family, and the traditional locus of the folk performance: the home.
This performance by Double Trouble also emphasizes the folk characteristic of generational relations, the passing down of ritual and tradition to the youth.16 Paradoxically, hip-hop in general and rapping in particular is youth culture rather than an older tradition to be passed down. It is a new mode of performance and tradition but one that initially included a positive emphasis on children and the community.17 In this example both the performer and audience are drawn from the street. Just as nearly all the neighborhood members are shown to be talented at some aspect of performance, so all members of the community are shown to provide an audience for collective performance, from nighttime graffiti writing, to rapping, to break dancing.
The communal audience occurs in nearly all of the performance-oriented scenes in the film and Ahearn continually shows us that, as one break dancer or artist steps out of the limelight, he or she immediately becomes a member of the audience. Indeed, this permeable border is in fact built into the very practice of the break-dancing circle filmed in the Roxy nightclub. As one member leaves the circle another one enters, creating a continuous flow between performer and audience. We even see Raymond and Rose, the "stars" of the film, as merely two of the numerous clapping and cheering spectators. In every aspect of performance in Wild Style, both in the club and on the street, there is a continual regeneration and displacement of the community-based audience.
Just as Ahearn reworks and redeploys the traditional folk audience of the musical, so too does the conventional setting of the home undergo a radical transformation. As noted above, according to Altman, musical performance in golden-era folk musicals often takes place in a natural country setting or within the home. Yet, in Wild Style the streets and urban spaces of the South Bronx function as the community's home, their central locus for communication, socialization, and performance. Altman argues that in the Hollywood folk musical, the family residence, whether farmhouse, mansion, or humble flat, thus takes on a symbolic value, for it serves not only as the stable and constant backdrop of the folk musical's action, but also as a permanent reminder of the strength and stability of the American family and home.18
However, in Wild Style we rarely see the interior of the home; it has been displaced by the street and other urban locales that provide the backdrop for communal expression and bonding. Children play in the streets; people meet, converse, and perform on front stoops; groups convene to play ball on neighborhood courts; and an abandoned amphitheater is taken over by the community to be used as a performance space for amateurs.
Even when we do glimpse the spare interior of Raymond's home, it too has been covered with graffiti. In an early scene, after we first see Raymond painting his Zoro logo, we track our graffiti hero through the street. The camera follows Raymond walking at night and then tracks up slowly to reveal the shadowy façade of a brick tenement building. He then climbs into his home through a window, reminding us of the opening shots involving the rope climbing. Raymond encounters his brother Hector (a military man), who greets him with a gun as he condemns the state of his graffiti-covered room. Hector refers to Raymond's street art brought indoors as ''fucking garbage'' and advises him to ''stop fucking around and be a man.'' Even though we see a conflict between two brothers, Hector clearly displays a paternalistic tone toward his younger brother, disciplining Raymond in what appears to be a home without a father. This sequence reinforces the theme of entering prohibited spaces and stages a confrontation between ''authority'' and youthful creativity. The conflict between Hector and Raymond is staged as a ''showdown'' between a figure of parental authority and a teenager, articulating the stereotypical problem of teenagers and their perpetually untidy rooms. This scene uses a cliché found in many representations of parent/ youth relations (in sitcoms, television adverts, and countless teen films) in order to open up a very radical and suggestive premise regarding the transformation of space through artistic intervention.
Interestingly, the camera prevents us from seeing the entire space of the cramped room. Ahearn only focuses on small sections of the space, dividing it up into artistic abstract components that isolate and emphasize the graffiti rather than the domestic function of the room. Susan Stewart has argued:
Graffiti make claims upon materiality, refusing to accept the air as the only free or ambiguously defined space. The practice of graffiti emphasizes the free commercial quality of urban spaces in general, a quality in contrast to the actual paucity of available private space.19
This scene underscores the unstable and permeable border between the inside and outside, between legal and illegal spaces, and most dramatically, between the function of ''home'' and street. It also suggests that through the youth-driven creativity of graffiti, the confined blocks of tenement living can be imagined as fluid spaces that resist the uniformity and often overly constrained aspects of urban living.
The multicultural communal groups found in Ahearn's film also challenge the racially unified notion of home and community at the very heart of the classic American folk musical, for example, the Judy Garland film Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) or the all black cast of Cabin in the Sky (1943), starring Ethel Waters. Ahearn's film reconfigures the notion of "home" within the musical, and an ever-present problem of inner-city life—the paucity of domestic spaces—as a challenge to be overcome through the creative act or performance of rap and graffiti. However, the use of folk musical devices also stages a critique of contemporary urban problems that paradoxically upholds many of the tenets of community propagated by the traditional folk musical.
"HOW FAR AWAY is THE SOUTH BRONX?"
The golden-era folk musicals discussed by Altman often mythologized an American past in which social order was predicated upon a racist set of social relations. In films such as Show Boat (filmed in 1929,1936, and 1951), an un-problematic antebellum past set the notion of a harmonious social order in tandem with an imagined social space in which everyone knew their place, racially speaking.20 According to Altman, the folk musical often called up a distant past in order to expurgate all of the unpleasant aspects of that past. In contrast, Wild Style evokes a contemporary space of racial difference that still incorporates aspects of the folk musical and demarcates a totally different culture from that of white middle-class America. Harlan Jacobson prefaced his 1983 interview with Ahearn by the following:
There's something delirious about the camera as reporter, taking one into foreign waters, or behind enemy lines, or penetrating political curtains where the shape of the country on some schooldays map is the only image one has. True of China until 1972, true of Afghanistan until 1979, probably still true of Albania, and definitely true of the South Bronx today, twenty minutes from this typewriter.21
The temporal displacement may only be twenty minutes away for Jacob-son, but the cultural difference is described as immense and completely other, even foreign. The early '80s may have been when many aspects of hiphop culture "broke" in terms of underground and academic spaces, but the music and images of black and Latino urban youth culture at this time remained marginalized in terms of mainstream representation, particularly in relation to contemporary rap's biggest promoter, MTV. Craig Watkins argues that MTV systematically excluded black performers from its play roster because of "market calculation and racism.'' He writes:
the executives postulated that because the network's primary target was white youth, the insertion of blacks into the format would alienate its predominantly white constituency and, most importantly, jeopardize the commercial viability of the network. Consequently, the decision to exclude blacks was not simply based on economics; it was also informed by the constellation of industry commonsense ideas and practices specifically reacting to and based on what whites would find pleasurable.22
Even though Ahearn's film does not contain any militant theorized critique of white culture, the critical significance of the film lies in visualizing and circulating images of inner-city locales and black and Latino youth culture outside of the spaces of crime news reportage.
The foregrounding of various spatial properties of the South Bronx also draws upon a long tradition of African American literature and film that uses the city as ''a metaphor for African American experience."23 Paula Massood has noted that ''the hood" has represented both a dystopic and utopic trope in African American film production and representation. She argues that the use of the city as a signifier in African American visual and literary representation has helped ''make visible" hitherto invisible spaces of urban life.24 Wild Style underscores the urgency of representing the actual space of the South Bronx by the very fact that it is a documentary while also capitalizing on the positive creative forces of the city space through its continual showcasing of emerging urban youth culture.
THE "MUSIC man'' IS A PAINTER
Although I am arguing that Wild Style is a musical, it is also true that the two main characters are not musicians or dancers but graffiti artists. However, this does not detract from the film's function as a musical. Many musicals take as their central character a ''brilliant'' but somewhat misunderstood artist that may be, but is not always, a stage performer himself.25 Raymond is a conventional ''music man" in the sense that entertainment and creativity are restored as a positive and utopic communal vision at the end of the film partly through his artistic intervention. However, the predominance of graffiti as a ''backdrop'' for the film has tended to shift the focus of analysis away from its musical aspects and toward its visual elements and basic romantic plot involving Quinones and Farbara.
Significantly, the conundrum of Raymond's ''secret'' artist identity of Zoro that we are made aware of in the opening shots is also one of the narrative devices that most emphatically links the film to the musical genre. His confidant and would-be promoter/manager, Phade, played by legendary recording and graffiti artist Fab Five Freddy, knows the real identity of Zoro because he used to paint with Raymond. A large part of the narrative involves the potential unmasking of Raymond as Zoro by both Phade and a white reporter, played by Patti Astor. This happens in various ways, including the introduction of an entirely white, predominantly female, and somewhat rapacious New York art world.
In Wild Style the potential co-optation of hip-hop culture is largely dealt with through an exploration of the relationship between street graffiti and the lure of the New York gallery. Young street artists, short on cash and tired of having their words and images covered in a matter of days, did in fact accept commissions to make graffiti artwork on canvas, as we see Raymond do, thereby completely erasing any communal or performative aspect of the piece.26 This tense relationship between gallery work and the street artist takes up the theme of very early musicals—success in the "popular" arts at the cost of personal, familial, or communal loss. I would suggest that in many ways Wild Style captures the very problematic of the founding text of the backstage musical, The Jazz Singer. Like Raymond, Jakie Rabinowitz (Al Jolson), protagonist of The Jazz Singer, is torn between being a success outside of his community or remaining true to an "authentic" notion of culture. The two spaces of culture seem irreconcilable but through performance these differences are in fact magically erased in the final live concert scenes in both films. For Jakie, the appearance of his mother in the audience of his popular show attests to the potential integration of "authentic" and popular culture, while the final "rap convention" of Wild Style brings the popular and communal together unproblematically in an explosive neighborhood party. At the end of Ahearn's film we are unsure of whether or not Raymond will continue to paint in the street or in the gallery, but the final scene, by involving the community and a prospective way of "being heard'' and "getting seen,'' seems to suggest that you don't need to choose between success and the community: you can have it all. Jean Fisher noted in 1984:
Like the classical Hollywood musical, Wild Style is about everyone's desire to be a star, which, as is ironically acknowledged, is impossible to realize without validation and promotion by the mainstream culture, and consequently, exposure to the risk of exploitation; so far rap and break dancing have not been incorporated into white style to the extent of graffiti art.27
As I noted previously, the final performance of Wild Style also serves to facilitate another plot device of early musicals, the revelation of a "secret"
identity. In Ahearn's film this scene of disclosure functions to reunite the troubled couple through a discussion of art production that is ultimately linked to the final stage "show" of the film. As in most backstage musicals, a successful show is equated with a successful romantic pairing. However, within the quintessential backstage musicals of the '30s, most notably the Warner Bros. cycle starring Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell, the two protagonists and potential romantic couple in the narrative were almost always seen together on the stage by the end of the film in at least one stage production number.28 Wild Style rewrites this ending as Raymond's involvement in the show entails painting the "set" of the disused amphitheater rather than singing and dancing. Raymond's painting of the stage design is captured by Ahearn as a performance, a "solo" act in the space that will become the final hip-hop show of the film. Initially Raymond is unhappy with his work, a design that evokes themes of artistic alienation. Rose and Raymond come together to discuss the direction of this present work as Rose convinces him that "it's not about you, it's about the performers." With this in mind, Raymond repaints the space as an emblematic star in order to represent the future "stars" of the show—the community. This transformation from personal to communal representation also coincides with the final romantic coupling of Raymond and Rose. The concluding show is a raging success, and in one of the final moments of the film we see Raymond perched on the top of the amphitheater, integrated into the spectacle of performance without literally being on stage. Like earlier musical conventions, romantic pairing is linked to Raymond's successful "performance" and integration into the community.
SINGING, DANCING, AND BASKETBALL
Not only does Wild Style borrow structural devices from the musical, it also directly quotes from previous musical film sources. Ahearn filmed one of the most successful sequences of Wild Style as an homage to Robert Wise's West Side Story (1961). However, rather than presenting the problem of urban communal divisions as violent warfare between racial groups, represented by the "American" Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks in Wise's film, Ahearn constructs a city space of performance across racial divides in which all of Wild Style's "crews" are racially mixed.29 This homage, shot in an inner-city basketball court, features rival "crews" Cold Crush and Fantastic Five engaging in a competitive rap session while performing a stylized dance-inflected basketball game. The reference to West Side Story's opening shots of New York's Spanish Harlem are very specific, from the use of urban basketball courts to the decisive snapping of fingers that anticipate the number. Furthermore, the inscription of "gang" territory is marked in the much earlier film by graffiti as well. However, the films radically differ in their appraisal of the potential sublimation of violence into performance. In Wise's film the initial balletic encounter between the Jets and the Sharks ultimately ends in an explosion of frenetic violence, with the staging of an all-out "rumble," while the competitive performative aspects of Wild Style suggest that the potential for youth gang violence can be fully suffused through its redirection into creative forces.
In fact, the desire to transform the potential brutality of youth gang interactions into nonviolent and creative manifestations is largely how hip-hop culture actually emerged. Afrika Bambaataa and other former gang members created the Bronx-based Zulu Nation, ''a loose organization dedicated to peace and survival,'' to promote performance and hip-hop as a creative way to end violence between youth gangs in inner-city neighborhoods.30 David Toop writes that early performance venues for hip-hop culture such as dances ''helped bring former rival gangs together. In the transition from outright war the hierarchical gang structure mutated into comparatively peaceful groups, called crews."31 Wild Style's basketball rap is an example of this potentially radical transition, uniquely situating this emerging aspect of inner-city youth culture within the generic boundaries of an integrated musical number.
I would argue that Ahearn's ''basketball number'' is a fully integrated musical number in many ways. First, the transition from speech to song as a natural occurrence arising from the plot is certainly in place or even made irrelevant since rapping is already directly derived from everyday speech. Individual members of the ''crews'' answer back and forth to one another in increasingly challenging rhymes directed at both individuals and the gang as a whole. Second, the aspect of youth gang or ''crew'' competition is the overarching theme of Wild Style, so the motivation for the scene is in fact already inscribed in the film through many displays of creative competition by the time this number occurs.
There is much more camera movement in this scene than in other parts of the film. Quick camera cuts follow the trajectory of the ball through the concrete spaces focusing on the players (rappers) and also on the audience, a chorus line of young female rappers commenting on the two crews. The space of musical performance and the documentary space of the city are completely fused and inseparable in this sequence. As the camera follows the ball it also becomes distracted by the rapping chorus and follows them, revealing the surrounding spaces and faces of the inner city. Interestingly, the sustained focus on a musical performance, rather than preventing ''documentary aspects'' from entering in to the screen, facilitates their inclusion.
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