Tony Silver, the director behind the seminal independent film Style Wars, passed away on February 1.
Originally shown at the 1984 Sundance Film Festival (where it won a Grand Prize for documentary films) and on PBS-TV, Style Wars was the first documentary to investigate the hidden world of graffiti in New York. Silver collaborated on the film with Henry Chalfant, the photographer whose books (Subway Art and its follow-up, Spraycan Art) comprise the definitive chronicle of early aerosol art. Style Wars features many now-legendary characters from that era, from Skeme 2 and Dondi to future mixtape king Kayslay (then known as Dez). Snippets from the film’s soundtrack have popped up on numerous hip-hop recordings, including Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version and Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star.
In 2003, after many years of falling out of circulation, Style Wars was reissued on DVD, winning a new generation of fans. An online version of it can be seen on Google Video.
On his MySpace blog, El-P posted an item titled “The Death of a Legend.” As a member of Company Flow, El-P may have authored the best musical fusion of graffiti-minded lyrics and hip-hop beats with the classic Funcrusher Plus.
for those that dont know, Tony Silver has passed. Tony Silver is the man behind the greatest hip hop film of all time: STYLE WARS
i had the pleasure of working with the man a few years back when he got def jux involved in doing the music for the release of the updated STYLE WARS dvd. this man single handedly inspired me and many i know to make the connection between the paint on the walls and subways in nyc i grew up with and hip hop culture. before then i just thought it was pretty. tony connected the dots for me visually and contextually with the release of his movie many years ago. he was a huge part of the reason i followed the path i did. may he rest in peace.
Unfortunately, not much information can be found on the web about Tony Silver, including the age at which he passed. In a 2003 interview with journalist Billy Jam, Silver revealed that he completed a documentary about painter Marshall Arisman. A full biography of his career can be found on the Hip-Hop Film Festival website.
“We lost a beloved friend this weekend and respectfully mourn with his family and the thousands of kids, artists and fans who took inspiration from his classic film Style Wars.
“I’ve been a close friend of Tony’s for many years and have had a special attachment to him as a
person who had a great depth of intellect in all areas of his life. As a mentor and friend I have known him for his appreciation for the art of life and the life of art in others, that is why he made Style Wars and Facing the Audience a film about Marshall Arisman.
“Many of you know that I have sought to extend the legacy of his work online with the website, a labor of love I have been doing since the beginning of the internet. It was this collaboration between him, Henry and myself that helped bring more people to know and support the film. It
is this collaboration that will continue on as the website goes into its next phase, realizing the enormous effect of his work and legacy on the global graffiti community.
“You can post any comments and condolences at myspace.com/stylewars.”
Photo by Jeff Vespa.