THE GRAND FINALE:
[Ed. Note—The final scene of Wild Styleis a massive outdoor concert at the Amphiteater in East River Park, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which Lee painted for the occasion. Kool Moe Dee, Double Trouble, Busy Bee, Rammellze, Rocksteady Crew and other hip-hop pioneers performed.]
Patti Astor: The Amphitheater scene is like a hip-hop Woodstock. Fantastic Five and Cold Crush delivered maybe one of the greatest performances in hip-hop of all time.
Charlie Ahearn: It was totally illegal. It was totally an outlaw event. It was done without permission both times, which is amazing. It’s an outdoor park jam, but I never saw an outdoor park jam like that. That was 25 times bigger than any outdoor park jam. [Hip-hop] wasn’t like that, but that’s not to say that it can’t represent that. That was the new bar that’s set—if you wanted to be hip-hop you got to come up to that bar. It was sort of like a challenge to set that bar and say, "This is hip-hop.”
I had a roll of $100 bills in my back pocket, and every time someone would perform I would stick my hand out and they would walk off stage and grab a $100 bill. That was my job. —Charlie Ahearn
Lee Quinones: It was in my neighborhood; I spent a lot of time in that park as a kid. As a five-year-old, I used to go to plays at that amphitheater, in the late or mid ’60s. Now in the ’80s, this place had been vacant for the last 10 or 12 years. I wanted to bring something that was credible to that place that reflected on my own personal experience there. I was like, “Here it is, the epic ending to a film about my life.” We got kids from all over the neighborhood to roll paint and throw color. I was like, “We wrapped. Great, I’m done I’m out of here.” And then they find out the sound was no good.
Charlie Ahearn: All the live music, including the Amphiteater, was re-shot because when I got to the editing room in the winter, the more I saw the footage, I decided the sound quality was low. The speaker systems that we were using, which were the Cold Crush speaker systems, they tapped out. It was bad. I thought, “It has to be good sound or else the film won’t work.” So everything was re-shot and I used better sound equipment and it sounds really good.
Lee Quinones: To re-shoot that scene? I was like, are you kidding me? I got to face 3,000 people again? Charlie went into cardiac arrest when he found out I cut my hair. They had to get me a wig. That’s one of the follies of Wild Style.
Charlie Ahearn: Unfortunately, I don’t have [the original footage]. That’s what everyone wants to know. In the original, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious come out and do the The Amphitheater.
Fab 5 Freddy: That’s probably the only regret—the fact that some of those guys are not in it and they were filmed. The fact that we had Flash and the Furious Five and Cowboy, one of the greatest rappers to ever touch a microphone—he was the foundation. They were the shit and we couldn’t see them in full glory. The sound was doo-doo. We reached out to do the Amphitheatre again, but Flash and the guys had blown up to a point they were no longer available. We couldn’t book them. They became big with "White Lines" and different records that popped.
Grandmaster Flash: Ahearn did want to put me in more parts of the movie, but it didn’t work out. I don’t know why—probably because of all the cancelations and retakes. We were hot commodities. It wasn’t easy for us to set aside a weekend.
Grandmaster Caz: The original scene, we were in. But we had a prior engagement the day they re-recorded so we had to forego The Amphitheater scene. I wish we would’ve did it. We had a show somewhere.
Charlie Ahearn: A funny story [from the second Amphitheater shoot] is that we were in a bus going down through Harlem, and I had the Treacherous Three on the bus. They were headlining that day at The Amphitheater; they were replacing Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. We’re coming down the hill and Special K looks out the window and says, "Hold the bus! I got to talk to my old lady, she’s right there on the corner. I’ll meet you down there." So he goes off to talk to his girlfriend on the corner, whoever she is, and he never showed up. So when it came time to actually do the scene and I’m rolling cameras. I said, "You can perform, but I’m not rolling 16mm on the Treacherous Two." Which was probably not fair. It’s unfortunate because they were so great but I was just mad. I thought, "Fuck you guys if you can’t get your own group together." The whole time, during the show, you can see Kool Moe Dee by the side of the stage getting more and more pissed off. And then finally, he goes out and gets the whole place going crazy. I didn’t have anything to do with that. I was hiding behind the DJ table. I had a roll of $100 bills in my back pocket, and every time someone would perform I would stick my hand out and they would walk off stage and grab a $100 bill. That was my job.
Patti Astor: That scene is one of the highlights of my acting career. I’m a very lucky person; I was there for that amazing energy. Did I know we were making history? No. But did I know we were doing there was something incredible happening? Yes.
Charlie Ahearn: I showed it to people in the Independent Film Market in the fall of 82 from 16mm. That was definitely the first time it was shown to anyone. It was also shown in Montreal in November of 1982. I showed it to [noted film agent] Irving Shapiro, who ran it to films around the world. He suggested I show it to people at New Directors and they were very enthusiastic about it. They showed it in the spring, which a big deal. They made a 35mm print and we brought it to the Cannes Film Market—I wasn’t allowed to show it at the festival because I had already shown in Montreal, which I hadn’t known at the time. Shapiro put an ad in the back of the magazine there showing a breakdancer that attracted enormous amounts of attention. They didn’t know what it was, but it seemed fresh and interesting. At that moment the film was sold to Japanese television, which is where the film premiered in October of 1983. It was also sold to theatrical markets in Italy and Scandinavia, in countries around the world. It was already about to screen on German and British television. I knew at that point that the movie and subsequently hip-hop was going to go around the world and be a global phenomenon.
Lee Quinones: That film pretty much single handedly changed the world—who can deny that?
That plane ride was madness. It was 13 or 14 hours in the air fueled by cigarettes, weed, and cocaine. —Grandmaster Caz
Charlie Ahearn: The film was originally shown in Japan. The world premiere was in Tokyo, before New York. We flew the entire cast of the movie to Tokyo and we toured Japan. We had Futura , Zephyr, Dondi, Fred, Lady Pink, the whole Rock Steady Crew, Cold Crush, Patti Astor, Busy Bee—it was pretty incredible. We did outdoor concerts all over Japan and they were on national television. They got treated like they were rock stars. Most of them had never been outside of the Bronx before, so it was sort of shocking and unfortunately set expectations far too high for where the future was going—which was not really very much.
Fab 5 Freddy: We went to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and maybe one other city. We went over there like a fucking army. There was break dancing, graffiti artists, and it was all the right motherfuckers. It planted seeds that still bear fruit.
Grandmaster Caz: That was mind blowing. That was the first time I was overseas. First time any of us were overseas or on a tour.
Patti Astor: When we met at the airport, Charlie passed out the cash for the per diems and people went straight to duty-free and bought Dom Perignon. Then we get on the plane and the boomboxes come out. Champagne corks were bouncing off the ceiling.
Lady Pink: I never traveled with such ill-behaved people. I come from a very good family. We have manners. Our plane was threatening to land. They informed us [during] the flight going to Japan that they don’t tolerate drugs of any kind, so we had to go into the bathroom in the back of the plane and do all the drugs that we had right there on the spot. We had to smoke it all, snort it all. It all had to disappear by the time we landed [in] Japan because we were all afraid we were going to get nailed. They said they’ll take your passport, you’ll get arrested, you can’t leave the country for 10 years. They scared the bejesus out of us.
I went with my mother. She was my date. She used to take me to all these great films as a kid, and here we are at the Times Square theater watching a film with me in it. It made her cry. —Lee Quinones
Grandmaster Caz: That plane ride was madness. It was 13 or 14 hours in the air fueled by cigarettes, weed, and cocaine. When we got there. I’m up in my room and Busy Bee rings my phone. He’s like, "Yo, come to my room, these Japanese motherfuckers is knocking on my door. They got sticks" So I put on my hardware—we had spikes and chains and all that shit—and went downstairs to Busy’s floor, but nobody’s there. He says they had these two Japanese girls in their room, and these guys were looking for them. They were Yakuza, or pimps or something. So they knocking on the door, KG opens the door like, "Yo, ain’t no girls in here man. You gotta knock on someone else’s door." KG came out in the hall, and they chased him with them sticks! He was running, banging on the door like, "Yo, let me in!"
Lady Pink: The worst part was we were in Japan and we couldn’t find any drugs. What a dilemma! We’re all running around like mad people. We finally located some weed in the American Army base and it smelled like fish. It was the most horrendous stuff, but we smoked it. What can you do?
Grandmaster Caz: We meet this Army guy who did service over there. We’re like, “Yo, where can we find some weed?” He’s like, “I got it.” So we went upstairs into the bathroom. There’s 12 of us in the stall with the guy. He’s got little, tiny $3 bags of weed he’s trying to sell us for $15. We’re like, “C’mon man, we from the hood.” Anyway, the guy sold us a few bags. We roll up the weed in a little joint and we passing it around, and then we hear footsteps come in the bathroom and everybody [gets quiet]. There’s a knock on the stall door, “Who in there?” and [Fab 5] Freddy said, “Yo, it’s me. I’m shitting.” He said, “You no shit. What’s that smell? I call the police.” Once he said he’d call the police, right there the stall opens and one by one everybody just took off.
Charlie Ahearn: When we landed in Tokyo in ’83, rockabilly was the cool thing at that time. They all dressed in leather jackets with pompadour hair. They were trying to imitate American youth culture, and all of a sudden we have Rock Steady Crew coming up and challenging guys dancing rockabilly. I think they were swept off their feet, and people wanted to give up whatever they were doing before and wanted to adopt this.
Grandmaster Caz: When we first got there, nobody knew what the hell we were doing; by the time we left they were emulating us. They were trying to breakdance. The DJs were trying to scratch records. We brought hip-hop to Japan.
Charlie Ahearn: When it was first shown in Times Square it was the second highest-grossing movie in New York City. Terms of Endearment was the highest grossing film for that week. I didn’t know whether it was going to be as popular as it was.
John “Crash” Matos: We used to go Times Square to watch the kung fu movies. It was cool to have the premiere there, because everyone was hanging out there anyway.
Grandmaster Caz: We all went to the [New York] premiere. We just wanted to see it downtown; we brought everyone in the neighborhood to go see it. It was a zoo in there. It was crazy. It was like, “Wow, we made a movie. We come to this theater every week to see kung-fu movies. And now I’m coming to the same theater and my movie is in it?” To see Wild Style on the marquee alone was phenomenal.
Fab 5 Freddy: It was like a crowd full of people that would be at Harlem World. Our core crowd plus graf heads, coming out to see those who they knew so well on the screen. It was unbelievable, it was beyond pandemonium, beyond what you could imagine. The crowd that supported the music, coming to see some shit that you could only hear on some third or fifth generation cassette tapes. Keep in mind, only a handful of rap records dropped by that point. And even though Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” got a lot of play, if you really knew, you knew that it wasn’t what it was really about. It was some grimier, dustier, more interesting shit; you got to see [that] in the movie.
Lee Quinones: I went with my mother. She was my date. She used to take me to all these great films as a kid, and here we are at the Times Square theater watching a film with me in it. It made her cry. That was a really beautiful moment I’ll never forget. When I walked out of that theater and I saw the line around the block and then around the next block, it kind of spooked me.
Lady Pink: I was absolutely horrified. I took my mom to see it and she doesn’t speak very much English, but what she can understand is the word “fuck,” and that was just on every other sentence. I was so embarrassed in front of my family when they saw that. I had only been exposed to normal feature films from Hollywood and this was my first independent film. It was just horrible. I thought I looked terrible, I sounded awful. I didn’t like it. I still don’t like it. You can’t make me sit through that. No one knew it was going to be a classic film, or what would go on, or that it would be aired on a big screen. If we had, we would’ve asked for acting coaches, perhaps wardrobe, or rehearsals.
Charlie Ahearn: I didn’t need great reviews—which I didn't get. People thought the film didn’t have much of a plot and people said the acting wasn’t any good. [But] people turned out for it. The film did great in Times Square; it didn’t really play well around to the rest of the country because nobody knew what the hell it was. The other place that it did well was in Philadelphia because Philly knew exactly what the film was about. Places like Chicago, they thought we made it up.
Chris Stein: I remember going to the U.K. pretty early on and guys would come up and beg me for white labels copies of [the soundtrack], and that was only within a few years of it coming out. I had my mind blown pretty early on.
Charlie Ahearn: Someone bought a 35mm print and was going around to the islands in the Caribbean in a boat. I showed up in Trinidad in 1985 and it had just played in the downtown theater and people were writing the word “sick” all over the place. They would write “Wild Style is sick,” meaning cool, like “ill.” Then I was riding out in the country and I saw this shack in the middle of the countryside that had Wild Style pieces on it. It went to places like Korea, Finland.