Flyin' Cut Sleeves

posted December 21, 2009 08:12:00 AM CST | 3 comments

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One of Hip Hop culture's favorite films is 1979's fantasy-based quotable cult classic The Warriors. However, the caricatured reality of Walter Hill's enduring low budget movie was daily life in The Bronx throughout the late '60s and 1970s. There were turf wars; that famous exchange between The Warriors and The Orphans over wearing colors in foreign neighborhoods actually lost lives in the streets off of Hollywood soundsets. Originally released in 1993, Rita Flecher and Henry Chalfant's (Style Wars) Flyin' Cut Sleeves is a then-and-now look at the political and social origins of a South Bronx outfits The Savage Nomads and Savage Skulls, and their female crew counterparts. Based primarily on conversations and archival footage this film quietly proves that many of the jackets and the gang colors were wrapped around a whole lot of heart, love and purpose in those days.

With most of the footage shot circa 1989 and going back to some preliminary early 1970s interviews, "gang members" are portrayed in this film differently than usual. The present-day footage often shows Nomads and Skulls beside their children, still in the same neighborhood 20 years later. Like retired athletes reliving glory, the elders of the Savage Nomads and Savage Skulls have ascended to jobs, families and look anything but belligerent. But talking about fallen soldiers such as Cornell "Black Benjie" Benjamin or pointing out former clubhouses, the pain and the pride are still very much alive. Moreover, the 1969-1972 footage provides context to understand what it was Hip Hop was born of. The Bronx streets and their conditions were in total neglect. This is the era that the fires started burning, and those fires would last throughout the decade. By the 1980s, the fire within the Skulls and Nomads was still burning too, although the interviews suggest a disconnect from the youth of the next generation. Without a heavy hand, Flyin' Cut Sleeves is a 60 minute profile of the neighborhood heroes that went under the radar of civic authorities to actively hold a community together while New York City seemed to be trying to let it go.

At approximately 60 minutes, Flyin' Cut Sleeves lacks the voiceovers and sensationalism seen in the Gang Land class of documentaries. Truly, Rita Flecher and Henry Chalfant don't drive the film with bias. With funding from New York State Council Of The Arts, this work is as educational as it is intriguing. The film never mentions Hip Hop, but with Chalfant's pedigree in the culture, as well as associate producer work from a young Sacha Jenkins, it's clear that this film pertained strongly to the culture. It's an honest platform with the kind of access that few were granted in the 1970s, and a 20 years later lookback that shows truly the altruism these crews had for their streets amidst adolescence, and how that glory never goes away.

Purchase Flyin' Cut Sleeves DVD

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