The 1970s were one of NYC's toughest decades—and in the background of all the crime, the NYPD corruption, and the urban decay, was a growing graffiti scene.
In the below 25 minute mini-doc, created for British Television in 1976, you'll meet some of the young kids who tagged the city (and its subways, statues, monuments) with markers and spraypaint back then. Not all young people were looking to spread their name around, however—one tells the BBC, "I think it's really foolishness.. people have nothing better to do, so they go write on the walls. They should take them home. Write on your walls at home. It makes the city look very stupid."
Film footage of New York during the graffiti-covered 1970s never gets old (literally, because pretty much all of it lives on YouTube now, and YouTube will never die). And now, a rarely-seen independent film by actor, musician, and photographer Fenton Lawless has resurfaced, thanks to some diligent sleuthing by Mass Appeal.
Shot on grainy film stock all across the city, Lawless's 16-minute New York Graffiti Experience offers a look back at the work of some of the true originators of our local tagging scene. On empty walls, storefronts, and subway cars, works by Mico, Checker 170, Phase 2, Blade, Billy 167, and many more are clearly visible. Most importantly, the film features an interview with CLIFF 3YB, the early king of New York's entire graffiti scene. These are the early handstyles that inspired spray can artists all across the globe. Lawless explained his motivation for capturing the ethereal, illicit works in MA's interview:
In 1975 my girlfriend and were talking one night. We were very interested in graffiti, so I said “Why don’t we shoot some slides and put it to my music and will send it to the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts)? At the time they were giving grants. We went out with a 35mm Leica and then we scouted the city and we shot what we could, put it together with my music and we created a slideshow and an oral presentation. They jumped all over it, and we traveled from different cities putting on this graffiti art show.
So then I got the idea, why don’t I make a documentary about it, which I did. I went out and found my 17-year-old cameraman Andy Aaron, who now works for George Lucas. We basically retraced our steps from where we did the slideshow and put it all together. There are two versions of the film the educational version which is the one that’s on Vimeo and YouTube right now and I have more of a street version.