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Tony Silver's 'Style Wars'

By Ross Kauffman

Tony Silver's 'Style Wars.'

"This is it! This is it!!! This Is It!!!!!!!!"

Those three words resonate with me. Let me tell you why.

When I was in eighth grade, my friend Dave and I were watching TV after school one day, and we came upon a movie on PBS about a bunch of graffiti artists in New York City .

I grew up in the suburbs, and NYC was always a second home to me. Every weekend my family would drive down to the city. These trips were full of adventure, but what I remember most was the graffiti. It was everywhere--on the walls, on the trains, on buildings, on billboards. I loved it.

So naturally, when this movie came on TV about these kids actually doing graffiti and taking the city by storm, my friend Dave and I were captivated.

At a certain point in the film, a group of graffiti writers come upon a train with a piece of their work on it and they start screaming, "This Is It, This Is It, This Is It!!!!!" Their energy, sheer joy and excitement are palpable and contagious.

Dave and I quoted those three words for the next two years. We were extremely obnoxious, but it was our little in-joke, and if you didn't see the movie (on PBS in the middle of the afternoon, mind you), then you weren't cool enough to get it. I will always remember that scene and, of course, those three words. But years afterward, it was the film's name that I had forgotten.

About ten years later, in the early '90s, I started living in NYC and began an internship at an editing house called Valkhn Film and Video. This place was (and still is) run by an editor named Victor Kanefsky. On the first day of my apprenticeship, I noticed a plaque hanging in the office. It was one of those "Best Documentary" plaques, and the title of the film was Style Wars

About three weeks into my internship, I got up the courage to ask what Style Wars was all about. Maggie, a co-worker, told me that Victor and Sam Pollard (an alumnus of Valkhn) had edited the film, and it was about graffiti artists in the early '80s. She told me how it took them a full year to edit, that it was one of those films that was "made" in the editing room and in the end, it came out wonderfully.

Style Wars? A film about graffiti artists?? Could this be the film I saw and quoted all through eighth and ninth grades???

I snatched a VHS tape of the film from the storage shelf, put it in the VCR...and there it was, the film that Dave and I loved, quoted and watched whenever it came on PBS that year.

Since then, the two-disc special edition DVD of Style Wars (Tony Silver, dir./prod.; Henry Chalfant, prod.) has come out, and I watch it over and over again. For every viewing, I learn something new about filmmaking--editing, shooting, the use of music, story, structure, rhythm, pace, character, etc. For me, the film is a training manual in how to edit and make a great documentary.

For me, This Is It!


Ross Kauffman is the Academy Award-winning director, with Zana Briski, of Born Into Brothels.