THE DEADLY ART OF SURVIVAL (1979).
Before transgressive poseurs overran the scene, this "No Wave" feature from writer-director Charlie Ahearn was one of NYC's earliest, most entertaining blasts of underground, do-it-yourself filmmaking. It's raw, unpretentious and also delivers loads of badass craziness on a food-stamp-level budget. Inspired by old school Deuce martial arts flicks, Ahearn grabbed a home movie camera, rounded up a bunch of black and Puerto Rican amateurs from the nearby projects and made his own threadbare kung fu feature! Once finished, he trucked the movie and his Super-8 projector to South Bronx and Lower East Side venues, occasionally preceded by a live karate or wrestling performance. A couple years later, Ahearn (a white dude) produced and directed the groundbreaking rap/graffiti feature WILD STYLE. Nathan (Nathan Ingram, who also choreographed the fight scenes) is minding his own business, walking down the street and discussing Bruce Lee movies with a friend when he's jumped by a rival gang. Little does he know, there's a contract on his head, thanks to low-level drug dealer Frankie, who thinks Nathan knocked-up his Asian old lady (even though scared-shitless Miguel is actually the papa). No surprise, Nathan wants revenge! Using his martial arts prowess (or a handy gun), he hopes to cleanse his community of its scum, including Handsome Harry and his Disco Dojo, where this half-assed 'sensei' sells drugs to gullible young pupils. In even sillier subplots, unemployed Nathan is being 'kept' by an Uptown white chick who's paying his bills, and later a couple local ninjas(!) are hired to irritate Nathan by stealing his hat, his lunch and even the wheels off his car while he's still inside it. But when they kidnap his baby, they've gone too far, ending in a big, crude, shirtless showdown between longtime-enemies Nathan and Harry alongside the East River. Laced with NYC neighborhood color and moments of improvised reality, you've got to admire Ahearn's crude yet ambitious vision. Ingram (who ran a Lower East Side karate youth program, and in 1981 received an award from Mayor Ed Koch after stopping a bank robbery single-handedly) shows off his martial arts training and displays raw charm, but freezes up whenever any honest-to-goodness acting is required. Plus the filmmaking is often hilariously inept, with muddy sound, ultra-cheesy dialogue ("I'm gonna take my fist and I'm gonna bust you into a million pieces...pregnant or not!"), and out-of-focus hand-held camerawork. No question, this lovably-crazy 77-minute NYC time capsule is best appreciated after chugging a couple 40's of Midnight Dragon Ale. One odd bit of trivia: NYC-auteur Beth B (VORTEX) is listed in the end credits as an actor, production assistant and camera operator.
© 2007 by Steven Puchalski.