Archives for posts with tag: slum

Street Music

Street Music (1981) ****1/2

A bittersweet variation on a staple 80s genre – the underdog story in which a motley assortment of misfits band together to save the [insert cause of choice: summer camp, dance club, etc.] – Street Music serves as the perfect vehicle for sprightly, diminutive cutie Elizabeth Guttman (alias Elizabeth Daily), whose exotic looks viewers may recognize from such classics of the decade as Valley Girl (1983) and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985).

Guttman plays Sadie Delaware, a busker who makes her living giving spirited renditions of old-timey jazz songs. Yet to get her big break in show business, Sadie lives with her boyfriend Eddie (Larry Breeding) in the ramshackle Victory Hotel in San Francisco’s Tenderloin, a colorful slum full of alcoholics, eccentric old codgers, and prostitutes. Unfortunately for the hotel’s residents, it is scheduled to be demolished, and all of its occupants are expected to vacate within a matter of days. Monroe (D’Alan Moss), a black Marxist who works at the Victory, hopes to mobilize the elderly tenants to picket and fight the eviction, but Sadie just wants to get out of the ghetto and make a better life for herself.

Street Music taps into common liberal fears of the 1980s: loss of individuality, ideals, and character; the sacrifice of the little guy on the altar of rising consolidation, commercialism, corporate power, and conformity. The tenants of the Victory – old Jews, blacks, Hispanics, crazies, food stamp recipients, and bohemian artists – represent the liberal dream of harmonious racial diversity in a setting of noble squalor and hearty communitarian grime. A modest movie about little heroisms, full of graffiti, garbage, and heart, Street Music will appeal to admirers of truly independent cinema. Sticklers for craft, however, are warned that, true to its subject matter, Street Music‘s boom operator seems to have been a drunkard, with the microphone dipping into view in more than one of the scenes.

4.5 out of 5 stars. Recommended.

Rooftops

Rooftops (1989) ***1/2

West Side Story director Robert Wise returns to the dance-oriented inner-city fantasy in Rooftops, the story of homeless heartthrob T (Jason Gedrick), who lives in a Lower East Side water tower “like a bat or a rat or something”. T falls for nappy-headed Puerto Rican treat Elana (Troy Beyer), unaware that she works for her cousin Lobo (Eddie Velez), the neighborhood crack cocaine kingpin. Lobo is making life difficult for everyone; and when one of his henchmen burns T out of his tower, Lobo’s days as the local thug-in-chief are numbered.

A prime document of the War on Drugs and its naive “Just Say No” ethos, Rooftops packs a vibrant blast of nostalgia for 80s freaks. Set in a fairy tale barrio where bright, resilient youths settle their differences with beat-driven martial dance showdowns, the movie is splashed with graffiti and peppered with quaint slum dialogue like “You dissin’ me, homeboy” and “don’t bust on my crib”.

Other sights and sounds of sentimental interest include the expected 80s fashions (Batman tank top, anyone?); funky music by the Eurythmics, Etta James, and others; and several shots of the World Trade Center looming large and doomed in the distance. Rooftops is elegantly photographed and entertainingly choreographed, but will be most likely to please admirers of period kitsch along the colorful lines of Body Rock (1984), Delivery Boys (1985), Band of the Hand (1986), and Lambada (1990). One only wishes Rooftops had more dancing and less sanctimonious anti-drug messaging.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Rooftops preview

Enemy Territory

 

Enemy Territory (1987) *****

Pleasantly, this action blast from the heyday of Charles Band’s now-defunct Empire Pictures has been uploaded to YouTube in its entirety for the world’s entertainment and hateful enlightenment. Your humble reviewer finally watched it tonight and can concur with the assessment of Mr. Kersey of SBPDL.

Whereas many street crime films of the 1980s promoted a myth of postracial gangs with no particular color coordination apart, perhaps, from distinctive wardrobe or insignia – with memorable multiracial gangs appearing in such films as The Warriors (1979), Vigilante (1983), Death Wish 2 (1982), Death Wish 3 (1985), Exterminator 2 (1984), and Tenement (1985) – Enemy Territory joins the modest ranks of those relatively few exploitation entries of the period, such as Ghetto Blaster (1989), that tell the truth about the racial alignment of gang activity.

Peter Manoogian’s film follows Jewish insurance salesman Barry Radchik (Gary Frank) as he unknowingly ventures into the heart of a cultish black gang’s turf to collect an elderly lady’s premium and so casually walks right into the Vampires’ “castle”, a dilapidated tenement splattered with glorious 80s graffiti and infested with savages with names like Psycho and Decon.

Enemy Territory VHS cover

 

Barry has hardly set foot in the building before he has somehow managed to offend the delicate, petulant sensibilities of a young black thug (Theo Caesar) and so also incurred the wrath of the hissingly bloodthirsty Count (Tony Todd), leader of the Vampires. Soon every punk in the building is hunting the head of this unwelcome “ghost”.

Thankfully, a few decent blacks come to Barry’s aid, chief among them Vietnam veteran Will (Ray Parker Jr. – in what is perhaps a piece of facetious casting, a “ghost” calls on the aid of the man behind the Ghostbusters theme!). Also livening up the place is Parker (Jan-Michael Vincent), a racist, paranoid, wheelchair-bound gun owner – and, significantly, the only figure the Vampires are known to avoid.

Enemy Territory, with its nocturnal edge, its sense of tension, and scenes of urban siege, savagery, and pursuit, shares some traits with action classics like the original Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), The Warriors (1979), and Tenement (1985), and ought to please admirers of 80s sleaze and suspense. It ups the ante on the aforementioned, however, by spiking its entertainment value with nasty, politically incorrect truth about simmering tribal strife.

Recommended.

SBPDL on Enemy Territory

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