“I done some really antisocial things in my life. Like robbing, shooting at people, raping people. Maybe I killed someone, I don’t know. But as you get older, you get wiser.”
By turns hilarious and terrifying, 80 Blocks From Tiffany’s profiles two gangs in late 70s New York City – The Savage Skulls and the Savage Nomads – in their daily routines, crimes, and philosophies. Director Gary Weis finds tiny civilisations of paradoxes in these gangs, which may had started with a simple protective goal in mind, but ballooned into something unwieldy and, at times, tragic. Both gangs consist primarily of African-American and Puerto Rican members, but both use extensive Nazi imagery for their brands. They both propagate extensive tough guy images, but the intricately painted designs on their leather vests suggest a delicate care for themselves. They all relish chaos and destruction, but confess in interviews to fantasising of simpler lives.
While most of this consists of interviews, there is some indelible, crazy shit shown as well, including the almost banal burglary schemes that involve climbing into open windows and lowering down TVs with rope, or hiring kids to walk slowly on crutches in front of trucks so that the contents may be stolen.
It all has a strangely hopeful tone even as Weis captures an underlying pain to all of this. And, somehow, 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s makes the seemingly cartoonish The Warriors look positively vérité. That doesn’t make me like Walter Hill’s movie any more, but it does make me laugh less at it.