Style Wars

However one may feel about graffiti writers and the work they do, what usually gets lost is why they feel such a compulsion to do it. Through interviews with writers, cops, parents and city officials, Style Wars brings out the universal fact that sometimes people—especially kids—want to be good at something so badly that they often don’t care what that something is. In that affirming way, this documentary about the beginnings of hip-hop culture and New York subway graffiti is a lot like last year’s Sundance-feted Dogtown and Z-Boys, which dealt with the birth of modern skateboard culture. Both subcultures have key aspects in common—urbanity, alienation, reprisals, ultimate acceptance—but, most important, both cultures reflect the possibilities contained in urban environments and the barriers society has erected between living those possibilities and merely imagining them.