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Beat Street (1984) - Blu-ray Review

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Beat Street (1984) - Blu-ray Review

4 beersBeat Street Breakdown, RUUUUUAHHHH!!! 

Like it or leave it, Beat Street is back.  This is the film which for many, including the entire country of Germany, brought breakdancing out of the shadows, off the cardboard, and into everyone’s life.

Full of drama and a natural ebb and flow of chances, this film, right here, is a quintessential American story.  We have people, divided by race and class, brought together by a cultural force that few understand.  In my book, it is more powerful than Saturday Night Fever.  This is a tale of the Bronx made when the hip hop culture was not yet accepted.  Sure, a lot of what is on the screen here would not make it to the end of the decade but, if you can fathom such things, this was a time when hip hop was on the fringes of our popular culture.  And now? 

 

"Beat Street, both in style and in tone, is ageless."


 

While concentrated on a group of friends, this movie is a celebration, if you will, of all things associated with the hip hop ommunity: the clothes, the dance, the graffiti, the city, the DJing, and, of course, the wonderfully rich music.   With performances from Grandmaster Melle Mel & the Furious Five, Doug E. Fresh, Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force, and the Treacherous Three (with Kool Moe Dee minus the shades!), this movie is your best bet for discovering why hip hop matters.

Deep in the boroughs of The Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, three friends and one little brother dare to dream bigger than their corner of New York City.  Planning for a party in an abandoned apartment complex, Kenny Kirkland (Guy Davis) knows how to flex his groove as master of ceremonies.  He’s a DJ on the rise.  With friends that include a graffiti artist known as Ramo (Jon Chardiet) and his best friend/promoter Chollie (Leon W. Grant) by his side, his confidence is at an all-time high.  There is a way forward: Kenny dreams of DJing at The Roxy one day.

His harmless younger brother, Lee (Robert Taylor), a staunch breakdancer with the Beat Street Breakers (the New York City Breakers) has a nasty habit of turning up where he isn’t invited, though.  And due to the dance rivalry between Lee’s troupe and the Bronx Rockers (the Rock Steady Crew) the all-important party is nearly ground to a halt.  B-boys take their dancing seriously on these streets. 

Yet, it is through Lee that Kenny meets Tracy Carlson (Rae Dawn Chong), who praises the boy’s skills and invites him to audition for a television show.  Lee and Kenny agree but when it becomes apparent that there is no serious audience or intention of honoring Lee’s skills, everyone leaves in a tizzy.  They don’t have patience for those who don’t respect their art.    

This underground movement of breakdancing, DJing, and graffiti art (which is a form of art) won’t remain quiet for very long.  That is never clearer than in the arc of Ramo, who has pressure from his father to get a real job and pressure from his girlfriend to step up and care for her and their child, all while he dreams of making his mark on a WHITE subway train. His story is a tragic one that highlights the struggle from the underground into the light of day that these artists faced in a bleached world of The Man. 

Director Stan Lathan’s dance drama is truly electrifying. Pardon the pun, Ramo.  When you consider that most of the culture caught on film here would soon fade (unfortunately), the film becomes something of an important time capsule.  But, then again, considering that this film is about minorities in the Bronx dreaming of better days where their art is accepted, there is a timelessness to its main drive that is certainly relatable. 

Beat Street (1984) - Blu-ray Review

But here’s my disclaimer about Beat Street.  It’s fun.  It’s quotable.  It’s nostalgic.  But there is a wholesomeness to much of the drama and the achingly dull romance that is simply bullshit.  There is a conscious effort behind the scenes to sell this underground scene to the masses.  Harry "King of Calypso" Belafonte, the film's producer, maybe didn't want to offend.  Where a film like Wild Style didn’t give a shit about who saw it, this one – complete with faux graffiti on walls and trains – wants the majority of the white world to accept it.  BUT, in spite of this, the film still holds up and the music, (oh the music!) is incredibly real.

And that’s why its appearance on blu-ray, thanks to Olive Films, is a significant one.  Beat Street, both in style and in tone, is ageless.  The hip hop culture on display here is making the rounds again and, for anyone interested in the scene, this film is your first stop along the graffiti-tagged subway line of the underground. 

Long before 8 Mile, there was a place called Beat Street.

Beat Street (1984) - Blu-ray Review

MPAA Rating: PG.
Runtime:
105 mins
Director
: Stan Lathan
Writer:
Andrew Davis
Cast:
Rae Dawn Chong, Guy Davis, Jon Chardiet
Genre
: Music | Drama
Tagline:
Capture the energy, excitement, and rhythm on ...
Memorable Movie Quote: "This ain't New York, this the Bronx!"
Theatrical Distributor:
Orion Pictures
Official Site:
Release Date:
June 8, 1984
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
February 17, 2016
Synopsis: With dreams of breaking out of their South Bronx existence, friends Kenny Kirkland (Guy Davis, Final), an erstwhile disc jockey; Kenny’s brother Lee (Robert Taylor, Avenging Force), a breakdancer; and their friend Ramon (Jon Chardiet, Money Talks), a graffiti artist, see a ray of hope when local composer and choreographer Tracy Carlson (Rae Dawn Chong, The Color Purple) takes an interest in their talent. But these friends will find that dreams are hard won in the musical drama Beat Street.

Beat Street (1984) - Blu-ray Review

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Home Video Distributor: Olive Films
Available on Blu-ray
- February 17, 2016
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles
: None
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; single disc
Region Encoding: Locked to Region A

Released on 1080p (with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1) by Olive Films, Beat Street isn’t exactly the best looking upgrade to ever grace your television sets.  I bet you won’t mind either.  There is, in some certain location shoots, a heavy layer of grain.  Now, this doesn’t bother me.  I like grain.  Grain works, but if you are expecting a low budget flick to look better some number of years AFTER its release date, then you will be disappointed.  This isn’t a restoration.  It simply is what it is.  Interiors are good, but details aren’t as graphic as they could be.  Black levels are good, but never impressive. The sound and its AWESOME soundtrack is supplied with an engaging DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • While highly recommended, it is sad that there are no commentaries for the film.

Special Features:

Olive Films is not known for their comprehensive supplemental items.

  • Theatrical Trailer

Beat Street (1984) - Blu-ray Review

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