In the crime-ridden New York City of the 70s, graffiti artists transformed subway cars, buses, billboards, and telephone poles into wild canvases. Made in 1976 for the BBC and recently dug up by Gothamist, Watching My Name Go By is a 25-minute mini-documentary about the rise of this graffiti culture. The film introduces the kids who lived to deface public spaces, chronicling how tags spread vine-like over the city’s every surface. It also features the anthropologists, cops, and pedestrians who liked to analyze them (“Psychologists have claimed that it’s a means of self-identification” one muses); scoff at their “vandalism” (“it makes the city look stupid”); or praise them as underrated artistic geniuses (“so imaginative!”).
The city’s graffiti culture has since been slightly tamed–the subways are no longer entirely covered in spraypainted scrawls–but the kind of homegrown hieroglyphic language these anonymous 70s writers developed still inspires many of today’s better known street artists, from Banksy to KAWS.
Watch the full documentary here.
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