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The Police Tapes South Bronx Fort Apache 70’s & 80’s NYC High Crime Ghetto Wasteland

Fort Apache The Bronx

NYPD 70's South Bronx

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NY Illustrated – Saturday Night At Fort Apache – March 4, 1973

‘Three types of people use the streets of the South Bronx after dark: Policemen, Criminals, and Potential Victims.’

One in this public affairs series devoted to issues that concern the greater New York area. This program profiles Police Precinct 41 in the South Bronx, nicknamed “Fort Apache” because of the frequency and severity of violent crimes committed in the surrounding area. Narrated by Norman Rose, the program begins with a clip of Sgt. Bill Taylor addressing officers of the precinct’s anti-crime unit. Later, accompanied by Rose, Taylor tracks down and arrests a suspected mugger. In interviews with officers stationed at and previously assigned to the precinct, the following topics are discussed: the high risk of incurring severe injury while on duty and the ability to cope with fear; the reluctance among members of the police force to be assigned to the 41st precinct; completing tenure at the precinct as a step toward promotion; the high incidence of illegal weapons possession among area residents; and the factors linking street crime with drugs and poverty. Also included is footage of a typical night at the Lincoln Hospital emergency room, where the number of people suffering from gunshot wounds and stabbings often exceeds the hospital’s nightly capacity. Among those interviewed are Deputy Inspector Matthew Neary and Officers James Finn, Bob Gardner, and Tony Imbimbo. Commercials deleted. (This series occasionally runs under the title “New Jersey Illustrated” or “Connecticut Illustrated”; series dates unverified.) – The Paley Center For Media

NYPD South Bronx NYC 70's

South Bronx NYPD 70's NYC

Fort Apache Bronx New York City Police Patch NYPD

The Police Tapes (1977)

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The Police Tapes is a 1977 documentary about a police precinct in the South Bronx. The original ran ninety minutes and was produced for public television; a one-hour version later aired on ABC. It won two Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, and a DuPont-Columbia University Award for Broadcast Journalism,and became an influence on later television and film dramas.

Filmmakers Alan Raymond and Susan Raymond spent three months in 1976 riding along with patrol officers in the 44thPrecinct of the South Bronx, which had the highest crime rate in New York City. They produced about 40 hours of videotape that they edited into a 90-minute documentary.

The result was what New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor called a “startlingly graphic and convincing survey of urban crime, violence, brutality and cynical despair”. Cases followed include the discovery of a dead body on the street, the rescue of a mother trapped in her apartment by a mentally ill son, an attempt to negotiate with a woman armed with an improvised flail who refuses to stop threatening her neighbor, and the arrest of a 70-year-old woman accused of hitting her daughter in the face with an axe. There is some introductory narration at the beginning describing the neighborhood and the time the documentary was filmed, but some unifying commentary is provided by an interview with Bronx Borough Commander Anthony Bouza, who ascribes the crime rate in the 44th Precinct to poverty, describes the hardening effects of urban violence on idealistic police officers, and likens himself to the commander of an occupying army, saying “We are manufacturing criminals… we are manufacturing brutality”.

The production was financed by the New York State Council on the Arts and WNET and cost only $20,000, thanks to the use of Portapak tape equipment; it would have cost an estimated $90,000 if film had been used. Special Newvicon tubes in the video cameras allowed them to tape with only streetlights for illumination, making them less conspicuous to subjects who might otherwise have fled from or approached the cameras.

The Police Tapes was an important source for Fort Apache, The Bronx, a 1981 film with Paul Newman and Ed Asner. It influenced the deliberately ragged visual style of the 1980s television police drama Hill Street Blues, which used handheld cameras to provide a sense of realism and immediacy—particularly during the morning roll call in each episode, which was based on a similar scene in The Police Tapes. Robert Butler, who directed the first five episodes, urged the camera operators to avoid carefully composed shots and to move their cameras frequently, telling them “If you’re having trouble focusing, that’s great.” This mock-documentary style, in turn, influenced many other television dramas.

Another line of influence runs from The Police Tapes to the Fox Network reality TV series COPSCOPS, like its predecessor, closely follows police officers, suspects, and crime victims with handheld cameras. According to New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell, the style of COPS then became part of the visual language of feature films, so that “the DNA of [the Raymonds’] original has found its way into the film mainstream.”

Fort Apache Protestor

Fort Apache the Bronx (1981) Paul NewmanFort Apache The Bronx 1981

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Flyin’ Cut Sleeves NYC 70’s Bronx Youth Gangs Documentary Savage Skulls Ghetto Brothers

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Produced and directed by Henry Chalfant and Rita Fecher
Completed in 1993 Flyin’ Cut Sleeves presents alternating portrayals, from the past and the present, of former street gang presidents in the Bronx: Benjy Melendez, The Ghetto Brothers, Ben Buxton, The Savage Nomads, Nelly “China” Velez, The Savage Nomad Girls, Felipe “Blackie” Mercado, The Savage Skulls, and Lorine Padilla, Blackie’s wife. The project grew out of the experiences of Rita Fecher, the film’s co-producer, who taught in a South Bronx school in the late 1960′s and early 1970′s, became intimately involved with the gangs, their leaders, and the leaders’ families and began to document their lives. Their world was the streets, set against a backdrop of uprooted families, cultural alienation, drugs and violence. Neighborhood teenagers responded by organizing into street groups known to the members as “families”, but labeled in the most alarming terms as violent gangs by the press. In fact, the “families” had a stabilizing effect, enabling the youths to cope with their troubled environment and providing their young leaders with a means of exercising authority. The political climate at the time, movements of national liberation and such organizations as the Black Panthers and Young Lords Party influenced the young gang leaders to aspire to be more than warriors and to become, to some degree, a positive force in their communities. – HenryChalfant.com

New York City street gang Savage Skulls

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Lefty: Memories of a Dead One in Brooklyn (1978) 70’s NYC Gang Documentary

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A German film crew for station NDR [Norddeutscher Rundfunk] picked the perfect time to visit New York City for their street gang documentary, LEFTY – ERINNERUNG AN EINEN TOTEN IN BROOKLYN, as the area sweltered through a brutal summer heatwave and the infamous 1977 blackout. For five weeks, director Max H. Rehbein and his crew actually lived in the basement of a Brooklyn house owned by the parents of ‘Brother Lou’ [Louie Morales], the leader of ‘The Sex Boys’ (named after the street they hung out on, Essex — after dropping the first two letters), filming many of that gang’s most private moments and digging even deeper than the aforementioned ABC special. Unfortunately, the print’s narration is in unsubtitled German, but their footage alone makes this an astonishing, 88-minute artifact…

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‘Lefty’ [Charles ‘Carlos’ Valentine] is the latest ‘Sex Boys’ casualty, first glimpsed in the Kings County morgue after being stabbed to death near Greenpoint’s McCarren Pool. Tempers within the gang are running hot, with Lou trying to keep his soldiers under control. The filmmakers follow them as they strut past razed buildings in their gang colors, leap subway turnstiles, convene a rooftop gang meeting, share brews and joints, perform some general vandalism, and celebrate Lefty’s truncated life with street fireworks.

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That’s intercut with Sgt. Frank Santangelo, from the 75th Precinct’s youth gang task force, as he patrols the neighborhood, attempts to ‘rap’ with gang members and ventures into one of their boarded-up-building clubhouses, in hopes of quelling tensions with ‘The Crazy Homicides’ from Coney Island. Sometimes helping their community (aiding neighbors during a late-night apartment fire), other times prepping for war (a meeting with ‘The Ghetto Brothers’ to purchase pistols) and often just having everyday interactions (Louie’s gravedigger day job, arguing with girlfriends, getting seriously-ugly tattoos), it’s an intimate, unfiltered peek into ‘The Sex Boys.’

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Without question, the most striking moments occur an hour in, because even a crime-ridden blackout doesn’t stop these crazy Germans from venturing into the war-zone-style streets with their cameras — filming Molotov-tossing kids, ransacked stores, looters fighting each other over an armful of clothes, and the overwhelmed police precinct…Rehbein adopts a fly-on-the-wall approach, with German narration and some bizarre synth soundtrack music added in post, and they must’ve been pounding back shots of Schnaps in the editing room when their tripped-out Halloween-party/haunted-house finale was conceived. From the shocking desolation of the South Bronx, to the bustling Coney Island boardwalk after dark, to Rikers Island — it’s all captured with an outsider’s inquisitive eyeand an almost TAXI DRIVER-esque amount of nighttime urban imagery. LEFTY is sprawling and unfocused, but also absolutely fascinating. – Shock Cinema

Sex Boys Graffiti

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