Hip Hop on FilmPerformance Culture, Urban Space, and Genre Transformation in the 1980s

Hip Hop on FilmPerformance Culture, Urban Space, and Genre Transformation in the 1980s

Kimberly Monteyne

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9781617039225

Publisher: University Press of Mississippi


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 part of the broader history of teen cinema as well, and films such as Charlie Ahearn’s Wild Style (1983) are here examined alongside other contemporary youth-oriented productions such as Valley Girl (1983) and Pretty in Pink (1986).Breakdancing, a central element of hip hop musicals, is also reconsidered. It gained wide-spread 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. 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. These multiple and volatile histories influenced the first wave of hip hop musical films, and even structured the sleeper hit Flashdance(1983). Monteyne places these productions within the wider context of their cultural antecedents and reconsiders the genre’s influence.