Esquire interviews Henry Chalfant

The producer of the legendary film on its making, and why street art shouldn’t be a crime.


When Henry Chalfant moved to New York City in 1973, the Stanford-educated sculptor found cheap studio space in a declining city, and compelling, clandestine art on the subway to SoHo. Graffiti had risen from the ashes of a burned-down Bronx, mutating from simple tags to Rust-Oleum-rendered murals that consumed entire train cars. And while other commuters contemplated how best to strangle the perpetrators, Chalfant grabbed his camera to capture the rolling canvases.

He chronicled graffiti in a pair of 1980s photo books, but perhaps Chalfant’s greatest anthropological contribution to the culture was as producer of Style Wars, a seminal 1983 documentary that’s finally out on Blu-ray today. Originally aired on PBS, Style Wars illuminates New York subway spraying at its early-’80s apex. It’s a drama in which teenagers defy the Koch administration, their parents, and sometimes each other to write their pseudonyms big and often, inspiring future generations to put their names where they didn’t belong. Chalfant spoke with us about gaining the trust of teenaged vandals as a middle-aged white man, the brawl that spawned Style Wars, and the creativity embedded in New York’s dangerous old days. Here are his words:

Style Wars Interview with Henry Chalfant

Listen to this great interview with Henry Chalfant from Sports Byline USA (heard on numerous Sirius Satellite Radio channel 122, CRN Digital Talk Radio Networks channel 2, and the Armed Forces Radio Network). He addresses the making of the film, “Style Wars”, the process of restoration, and extras on the Blu-ray.

Here is more information about the restoration from the Kickstarter campaign:
“The original footage is damaged and fading. Fortunately, it will be possible to repair using digital technology. It will cost $28,000 to save and restore the outtakes. Saving the best outtakes is an important component of our overall project to restore the entire negative of the film and make an HD master which will preserve the record of the first painted trains in their original vivid colors.”

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