Tony Silver, director of the best hip-hop film ever made, Style Wars, passed last night. Not only was Tony a gifted artist, he was also a close family friend, and he’ll be missed both my my family and his. I’m thinking of his wonderful wife Lisa. Tony had been suffering from a degenerative brain condition for quite some time, so in some ways, it is a release.
When Tony made Style Wars, the seminal documentary about hip-hop and particularly graffiti in New York, he wasn’t a part of hip-hop or graffiti culture. He and his partner Henry Chalfant made a film that is immensely intelligent and respectful of its subjects, a bunch of New York kids who were discovering something that would really and truly change the world. By allowing these kids to speak for themselves to a world that at the time was at best borderline contemptuous of them was really a watershed decision.
If you want to remember Tony, I can’t imagine a better way than by buying or renting Style Wars. For many years, the film was only available in expensive educational VHS editions, sold to university libraries for hundreds of dollars. Graf heads made dubbed copies and passed them to friends. A few years ago, Tony spent quite a long time putting together a definitive DVD edition, which features not only the full film and outtakes, but also interviews with the subjects, some 25 years later.
I’m thinking of Tony today, a kind, intelligent man and a brilliant artist.