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Hip Hop on Film

Performance Culture, Urban Space, and Genre Transformation in the 1980s

Kimberly Monteyne

Publication Year: 2013

Early hip hop film musicals have either been expunged from cinema history or excoriated in brief passages by critics and other writers. Hip Hop on Film reclaims and reexamines productions such as Breakin' (1984), Beat Street (1984), and Krush Groove (1985) in order to illuminate Hollywood's fascinating efforts to incorporate this nascent urban culture into conventional narrative forms. Such films presented musical conventions against the backdrop of graffiti-splattered trains and abandoned tenements in urban communities of color, setting the stage for radical social and political transformations. Hip hop musicals are also part of the broader history of teen cinema, and films such as Charlie Ahearn's Wild Style (1983) are here examined alongside other contemporary youth-oriented productions. As suburban teen films banished parents and children to the margins of narrative action, hip hop musicals, by contrast, presented inclusive and unconventional filial groupings that included all members of the neighborhood. These alternative social configurations directly referenced specific urban social problems, which affected the stability of inner city families following diminished governmental assistance in communities of color during the 1980s.

Breakdancing, a central element of hip hop musicals, is also reconsidered. It gained widespread acclaim at the same time that these films entered the theaters, but the nation's newly discovered dance form was embattled--caught between a multitude of institutional entities such as the ballet academy, advertising culture, and dance publications that vied to control its meaning, particularly in relation to delineations of gender. As street-trained breakers were enticed to join the world of professional ballet, this newly forged relationship was recast by dance promoters as a way to invigorate and "remasculinize" European dance, while young women simultaneously critiqued conventional masculinities through an appropriation of breakdance. These multiple and volatile histories influenced the first wave of hip hop films, and even structured the sleeper hit Flashdance. This forgotten, ignored, and maligned cinema is not only an important aspect of hip hop history, but is also central to the histories of teen film, the postclassical musical, and even institutional dance. Kimberley Monteyne places these films within the wider context of their cultural antecedents and reconsiders the genre's influence.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-2

I have many people and institutions to thank for the completion of this project. The scholars that I worked with at New York University’s Cinema Studies Department have been instrumental in my own development as a film historian and in shaping the initial research that would eventually lead to the writing of this book. Antonia Lant taught me a great deal about ...

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pp. 3-38

It is conventional wisdom that hip hop culture has become the mainstream— a multi-billion dollar industry that caters to the urban underclass as well as the wealthy suburban teen. Americans love success stories and no other cultural phenomenon is quite as demonstrative of the acquisition of material wealth as the rap video industry with its ever-present images of...

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1 The Case for the Hip Hop Musical

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pp. 39-84

Between 1983 and 1985 no fewer than nine hip hop-oriented musical films were released in the United States, including Wild Style, Beat Street, Body Rock, Breakin’, Breakin’ 2, Breakin’ Through, Rappin’, Krush Groove, and Delivery Boys. Although they have been all but forgotten in most historical discussions concerning the development of the musical genre, many ...

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2 The Sound of the South Bronx: Wild Style Reinvents the Urban Musical

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pp. 85-123

Wild Style managed to suggestively evoke aspects of hip hop culture through the negotiation of “real” urban spaces while, at the same time, largely conforming to the structure of the classical Hollywood musical. This is true of several other hip hop musicals, but it is the film’s unique tension between documentary aspects and the musical genre that imparts ...

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3 Hip Hoppers and Valley Girls: The Economic and Racial Structuring of Youth Cinema in the 1980s

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pp. 124-163

Young people have been captured on film since the birth of the medium, yet the development of what is now identified as a coherent genre, the teen film, has been heterogeneous and contested. Timothy Shary notes that children rather than teenagers seemed to dominate the image of youth in the 1920s, although some later films featuring adolescents (such ...

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4 Flashdance: Breaking, Ballet, and the Representation of Race and Gender

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pp. 164-208

The exceptionally popular urban phenomenon of breakdancing made its presence strongly felt in a variety of representational spaces, from medical journals to television pilots and advertising. For instance, in 1984 The New York State Journal of Medicine featured an article entitled “Hazards of Break Dancing,” and the Journal of the American Medical Association ran ...

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pp. 209-212

The emergence of hip hop cinema in the early 1980s presented a unique marketing challenge for producers, exhibitors, and distributors. These films clearly belonged to the Hollywood musical genre, but they also introduced a startlingly new (and unavoidably political) lexicon of music, dance, and artistic expression focused on inner city communities. When...


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pp. 213-258


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pp. 259-268


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pp. 269-277

E-ISBN-13: 9781617039225
E-ISBN-10: 1621039994
Print-ISBN-13: 9781621039990

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2013