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The Breakin’ DVD Collection DVD Review

The Breakin’ DVD Collection

January 23, 2006

Director: Joel Silberg, Sam Firstenberg, Stan Lathan,
Starring: Lucinda Dickey, Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quinones, Michael “Boogaloo Shrimp” Chambers, Christopher McDonald, Susie Bono, Harry Caesar, Guy Davis, Rae Dawn Chong, Jon Chardiet, Robert Taylor, ,

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DVD Review

It’s time to put your headband and parachute pants on and break out those Grandmaster Flash records for the holy breakdancing trilogy of films. These movies were made pre-Gangsta rap when disputes were settled either on the dance floor or on the mic. Breakin’, its sequel, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, and Beat Street were all released in 1984 and are a fantastic time capsule of their times in all of their cheesy (and in one case not so cheesy) glory.

Cashing in on the breakdancing/hip hop phenomenon was Breakin’, a mainstream look at the West Coast scene. Kelly (Dickey) works as a waitress at a greasy diner but dreams of being a dancer. Her pompous ass of an instructor has the hots for her (“Let the music caress you,” he tells her) but she finds his creepy intensity and pretentious nature a real turn-off.

One day, a fellow dancing student takes her down to Venice Beach where she meets Ozone (Quinones) and Turbo (Chambers), two amiable street dancers who end up giving Kelly her own street name of “Special K.” Pretty soon the world of modern dance collide with the one of street dancing as Kelly spends more time with Ozone and Turbo.

Looking at it now, Breakin’, with its laughably cheesy dialogue (“Blond, brunette – if they’re looking for hair why don’t they look for gorillas?”), horribly dated ‘80s fashion (skinny ties! headbands! parachute pants!) and wooden acting, is a harmless, cartoony look at a more innocent time. And let’s be honest, that is part of the film’s charm.

There is some great dancing, though, like when Turbo breakdances with a broom at work, that is a fantastic display of his abilities. Throw in a young Christopher McDonald with a bad perm as Kelly’s agent and Ice-T in a cameo role rappin’ at a club where Ozone and Turbo battle a rival street dancing crew, and you’ve got the makings of a cheesy classic.

After the surprise success of the first Breakin’ movie a sequel was quickly rushed into production and the result is Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (great title, btw). Special K, Ozone and Turbo are back and this time out our heroes have come together to save an inner city community centre from a greedy developer who wants to knock it down and put up a shopping centre. They have 30 days to raise $200,000.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Kelly is facing pressure from her snooty, rich parents who don’t want her to waste her time as a dancer. Ozone still pines away for Kelly while Turbo finally gets a love interest. While the film gets points for its socially conscious message, it’s lacking the “magic” of the first film. Where’s Christopher McDonald and Ice-T?

Beat Street is the East Coast answer to Breakin’ that was grittier, edgier and therefore not as successful but definitely more authentic. Shot on the dirty, grungy, pre-Giuliani streets of New York City, it follows Kenny (Davis), an up-and-coming rapper/DJ who is buddies with Ramon (Chardiet), a gifted graffiti artist who uses the subways and sides of buildings as his canvas. Kenny dreams of DJing at the Roxy, a slick, hip club and he finally gets his foot in the door and meets Tracy (Dawn Chong), an upper class orchestra conductor. They fall in love and experience the inevitable clash of cultures.

The Roxy is a fantastic looking place that really captures the scene at the time. Everyone was coming off the tail-end of the disco era and hip hop was emerging from the underground ready to take over. There is even a memorable dance battle between the legendary Rock Steady Crew and The New York City Breakers that features some incredible breakdancing—definitely the film’s showstopper.

Unlike Breakin’, this is how the hip hop scene really looked and sounded back in the day. Parties take place in the basements of burnt-out buildings in the slums of the city. These guys are all young, poor and hungry to make it out of the ghetto anyway they can. Beat Street also trumps Breakin’ in the number of cameos by pioneers of the genre, featuring the likes of DJ Kool Herc, Kool Mo Dee, Doug E. Fresh, Afrika Bambaataa and Melle Mel. This also results in a great soundtrack that shows many of the influences on early hip hop: calypso, salsa, jazz—all thrown into the mix.

Beat Street is everything that the Breakin’ films aren’t: gritty, cold, gray with characters that swear and even die. It is a fascinating example of the polar ends of the spectrum and this box set collects all three movies for one to immerse themselves in early ’80s culture.

Special Features:

MGM has basically repackaged these three movies and so we have Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2 presented in crappy pan and scan with nothing more than a trailer as an extra. Beat Street can be seen either, pan and scanned or widescreen with a trailer included.

Included exclusively with this box set is a DVD of extras. Sadly, they have almost nothing directly to do with the three films which is a big disappointment. Surely, they could have gotten Shabba Doo and Boogaloo Shrimp back for some new extras? What’s Rae Dawn Chong done lately? And where’s the deleted scene of Kadeem Hardison cut from Beat Street?

Instead, the focus is on the hip hop culture itself. First up, is “The Culture of Hip Hop” which traces the genre’s origins to the Bronx (according to Asia One) while another commentator claims that it came from all of the NYC boroughs. Breakdancing came from a lack of community centres and so people took to the streets. There is a surprising lack of commentary from celebrity pioneers like DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and others. Instead, more obscure (to those not in the know) people talk about the basic elements of hip hop and b-boy culture.

“The Elements of Hip Hop” breaks it down into four components: graffiti, DJing, breakin’ and MCing. Back in the day a lot of people did all four things but everyone stresses that all of these elements are a form of self-expression. A way to establish one’s reputation was to engage in battling: when two people (or two crews) danced against one another to see who was the best and showcasing all their best moves to establish superiority. This is a pretty decent introduction to the basic components of the culture and a nice companion piece to the first featurette.

“Beat Street Battle: Rock Steady Crew vs. New York City Breakers” is the only extra that has anything to do with the films in the set and it is just a scene lifted from Beat Street.

“Shout Outs” is basically a montage of people who were interviewed in the first two featurettes giving thanks to all the people who inspired and supported them over the years.

Also included is a music video for “Will Not Be Destroyed” by the Living Legends with loads of nice breakdancing footage.

Finally, there are small galleries with stills from each of the three movies from the set.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 78%

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