Screen shots from The Wiz
Sidney Lumet was born on this day in 1924 and the late director of “Network” and “Dog Day Afternoon” may have been the first to use graffiti as a narrative device in a movie. And not just by documenting street life character, which Lumet is also known for in his body of work for film and television. New York street's was his stage for epic emotion.
But, when Lumet willfully directed, allowed, or approved New York graffiti into “The Wiz,” his maligned adaptation of the Broadway musical from 1978, it's not a capture of backdrop. It's creating it. First, the opening credits plays off New York’s style. Then it's prominent in Munchkin Land, filmed in New York State Pavilion on the old World’s Fair ground, converted into a graffiti playground. Moving into the scene, against the long mural, painted figures are really dancers and slink off the backdrop.
For "The Wiz," Tony Walton received Oscar nominations in 1979 in two categories; costume design and set direction/art direction.
Sure, Blondie’s video for “Rapture” used graffiti and had cameos by Lee Quinones and Jean-Michel Basquiat. But that was from 1981. And Charlie Ahearn’s hip-hop film “Wild Style” was released in 1983.
If graffiti was art directed in popular film or video prior to 1978’s “The Wiz” I’d like to know.
Blondie and Basquait