The late 70′s era in New York’s history, can be seen as golden or grimey, depending on ones perspective but what cannot be denied is that this era represents a planetary alignment that has affected the world in a significant and permenent way.
Two films that cover this era era we’re talking about, is the BBC documentary Once upon a time in New York, and NY77: the coolest year in hell.
These films attempt take us on a journey to the sleaze, and squaler of a decaying mid 70′s New York to witness the birth of Disco Punk and Hiphop, from an American and British point of view,
Both films were released in 2007 each film not exactly on general release but can aquired.
Picture late 70′s NYC, it’s streets soiled with every form of crime, murder, drug dealing and armed robbery.
Arson was rife, as the blazing back drop of the South Bronx resembled a warzone. Residents driven out of their homes, as landords had their own buildings torched as insurance scams.
And while street gangs ran rampant and burned the Bronx to the ground, goverment cutbacks financially choked the city to the point of death.
This is the picture that the film NY77: coolest year in hell documents.
The early focus of the film targets a sleazy chapter in late 20th century American history, revisiting a pre A.I.D.S epidemic New Yoek, where anything of a sexual nature went, dialog during the film recounts at least 200 porn establishments open for buisness on 42nd street, and prostitution so rife that from 34th st to 50th st and 8th avenue there were at least 1200 hookers.
NYC77 traces the riegn of terror of the notorious serial killer ‘the Son of Sam‘ and shows how Ed Beam (New Yorks mayor of the time.) had lost control over what the crumbling city, while candidate’s Bela Abzug and congressman Koch ‘fought for the soul of the city’.
The film spotlight’s the new creative energy growning within NYC, an energy that formed Punk, Disco, and Hiphop.
It reavels to the lower east side of Manhatten, another decaying part of the city where young misfit’s, and out of town thrill seeking caucations gravitated towards, hungry for excitement.
The attraction and buzz of the downtown scene was triggered by places like CBGB’S, a dingy downtown night club that , a was home to The Ramones, Blondie, New York Dolls, and Talking Heads.
While the downtown scene gave birth to punk rock, the Bronx was birthing Hiphop, pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa, Disco Wiz, Grand Master Caz, and KRS1, take us back to the days of clubs like Disco Fever and block parties,
NY77 also shows the birth of disco speaking on places like the Loft and Paradise Garage, Interviewing legends like Frankie Knuckles
What NY77 fails to underline ( but only slightly!) is the fact that the music was the driving force of the disco movement,with little to nothing mentioned about the artists and pioneers of the disco sound, the blue print and early echo’s of house music.
The hedonistic days in Studio 54 and the sexual decadence of Ceaser’s Retreat, are also highlighted, swingers with one time porn star Annie Sprinkles talks about the sexual primiscuousness of that era.
The film also relives the bedlam that took place on the nightwhen a city wide blackout hit the city
Hiphop Legend KRS1 speaks his horror as a child, as he witnessed regular people degenerating down to common thieves and looters in the chaos that followed in wake of the black out.
NY77: the coolest year in hell has a gritty approach, with good grapics and animation that enhance the archival footage in places but overcook it in other’s.
Once upon a time in New York City, is a more sterile affair,t hat comes across vague, and at times biased in its view of that period ,
This 2nd film pretty much touches on similar topics as NY77 but in our opinion places much more emphasis on the downtown punk scene, and the artists within that scene. The monotonous (disinterested sounding) British accented narrative, sets this film up for critism very early on.
Studio 54 is focussed on as the main home of disco as opposed to the Loft or the Paradise Garage, with no real evidence of the New York roots of disco. Statements such as “Studio 54 had the same freshness as punk” are questionable.
The films attempt to cover “the birth of hiphop” fails drastically, infact it starts to talk hiphop in the last 15 minutes. and summorizes with a blatant untruth as it gives Blondie’s psuedo rap song ‘Rapture‘ credit as the song that spread hiphop worldwide, In our opinion the statement “the song ( Rapture)stood at the pinnicle of street music” seriously damages this films credibility as a fair and balanced documentary.
NY77: the coolest year in hell. is a more entertaining look at the period, and almost gives equal billing to tthe punk, disco and hiphop movements (punk coming in 1st hiphop a close 2nd, and disco cruising in 3rd) and manages to highlight the political as well as the social aspect of this important period in New Yorks history. In contrast BBC documentary tells a different story that can leave those who know frustrated, but that’s the whole point, the documentary is for those who don’t know, and after watching this film we wager the the layperson will still not know.
Once upon a time in New York’s nonchalont approach annoys at times, A biased view in parts of this film is evident as it prefers to doctor hiphop’s history and creates it’s own ‘hiphop pioneers’ in a mish mash of misleading dialog rendering it’s version of the story an incomplete and untrustworthy document.
other Films of that period
Doin Time on Times Square
South Bronx Heros
Night of the Juggler
80 Blocks from Tiffanys
The Deadly Art of Survival
Flying Cut Sleeves
The Bronx is Burning