In 1979, Gary Weis, known for his short films on Saturday Night Live, directed a documentary about South Bronx street gangs called 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s featuring the Savage Nomads and the Savage Skulls. NBC never aired the 67 minute documentary so 80 Blocks remained shelved until 1985 when it received a very limited release as an educational VHS. In the time since, 80 Blocks has become an underground sensation, especially with hip hop fans looking for the beginnings of the culture and documentary film buffs who respect Weis’ bold choices as a filmmaker.
Thanks to the internet you can watch 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s in its entirety below.
But before you do, read the following excerpt from Billy Jam’s article “A South Bronx Tale” to gain some context:
It was Koch-era New York when the South Bronx, one of the poorest areas in the nation, was such a rundown destitute place that both Presidents Carter and Reagan traveled there for photo ops to exemplify the most striking symbol they could find of urban decay in America. It was also the time and place when the subways were covered in graffiti and when a new music and culture called hip-hop was taking root in the “Boogie Down” Bronx.
80 Blocks, which Weis based on a 1977 Esquire article by Jon Bradshaw, offers a rare, intimate inside-look at the Savage Nomads and the Savage Skulls, two gangs that resided in the notorious 41st Precinct and ruled their ’hoods decked out in cutoff denim jackets with gang names proudly embroidered on their backs. “They think they’re outlaws. I think they’re bums,” Detective Bob Werner of NYPD’s Youth Gang Task Force says in the film’s opening. Along with the many colorful Skulls and Nomads members, community activists and other locals, Werner is a recurring figure in this character-driven time capsule that’s been recently recovered and fully restored for DVD release Nov 23, 2010.
Read more about the film here
Purchase the DVD with plenty of extras here