Subway graffiti was famously part of movies like Saturday Night Fever and The Warriors. Mayor Ed Koch hated it, and the “blight” was eventually scrubbed out of mind. Manfred Kirchheimer’s lovely 1981 short was the first film to actively take on the colorful tags as subject matter. That makes him something of an art-house Columbus. Stations of the Elevated plays like a time capsule, particularly for having no dialogue or plot. It swings to Charles Mingus’s hardest bop and evokes a long-gone city, somehow more adult and confrontational even in silence.
It’s worth remembering, though, that when Kirchheimer’s project debuted at the New York Film Festival (promptly to disappear for decades), it was not nostalgic, not lapped up by Brooklyn hipsters. Essentially, it said: Look at this marginalized art, cognoscenti, so much more vibrant than billboards of lounging girls and smokers. Before rap’s explosion into the mainstream, this was a radical idea, in the same vein as Jean-Michel Basquiat’s street-bombing of Soho galleries. Now there’s a quaintness to it; you’ll want to see this anyhow. BAM screens it with the director’s 1968 “Claw: A Fable,” also about urban revision.
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