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…
‘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.
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.’
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
File under Blast From The Past, Culture, Music, New York City History, New York City Street Photography, Secret History, SeMeN SPeRmS BLArRrG, SeMeN SPeRmS ViDeO CLuB, Sex