Just a curious question that recently dawned on me after watching the Basquiat film. Seeing that you were the original writer of “Beat Street,” was the Ramo character a not-so-thinly veiled reference to Jean-Michel and his SAMO moniker? If so, what a prophetic ending! –James
Great question, James. I don’t know how I came up with the name Ramon, I knew I had to switch up all the names and was looking for something original that had style. In my original script, a central character catching on fire in a subway tunnel was named Ramon, and his tag was DJ Ramo.
In dropping the “n,” I must have been thinking about Jean-Michel’s tag, Samo. So I guess it is sort of a nod in his direction. The climax in my script involved Ramon catching on fire in a subway tunnel. It was a depiction of what happened to Ali when he was painting one night with Futura 2000. A spark by a passing train set off a can of spray-paint whose nozzle was hissing. Ali was covered by flaming paint and barely survived. While in the hospital, he gave a famous interview to the New York Times about the dangers of graffiti writing. In embellishing his story, he claimed to have been abandoned by Futura while on flames.
Futura actually put out the fire and took him to the emergency room. After the story was printed, however, no one would believe Futura’s version and he was forced to join the Navy to get a ticket out of town for a few years. My original script was called Looking for the Perfect Beat and was very, very different from what eventually came out. In fact, the main characters’ names were almost all that survived. Someday, maybe Looking for the Perfect Beat will actually get produced.
Henry Chalfant was a super cool dude, one of the first photographers to document NYC graffiti. Manny Kirchheimer was the first filmmaker, and his film “Stations of the Elevated” is online. While I was working on Beat Street, Henry was just completing Style Wars, which was largely the work of Tony Silver. Tony I didn’t like so much. It was Tony’s idea to build Style Wars around Cap.
Belafonte and his crew already had my script, a realistic portrayal of a budding rap group trying to make a record. Slice of life and It also had a Romeo-Juliet style story concerning a South Bronx rapper hooking up with a girl from a privileged background.
But when Belafonte got a sneak preview of Style Wars, everything changed and my script was tossed and they began writing a new one using my characters names, and it was all about Cap, who they renamed Spit.
Cap was never mentioned in my book or my script. But when I asked Phase 2 who were the current kings, Cap was the first name he mentioned. “You have to give him props, because he’s so up,” said Phase.
Graffiti was divided into crews and crews had conflicts that sometimes included dissing each other’s work. Sometimes it involved tag rights, like the conflict between Snake and Snake-1. Snake 1 began adding “king of all snakes” to his tag.
Cap was not the loner they portrayed him as. He was in the Morris Park Crew, some of whom were dust heads. Instead of asking Phase or Tracy about Cap and his crew, Silver focussed on the younger writers in opposing crews building Cap up as the evil villain of graf, dissing the most sacred rules. Some of those kids were scared to death of Cap in real life, but in the film they talked big shit about how somebody was going to cap Cap. I imagine some of that drama could have been coached and encouraged by Tony.
Eventually, Cap was run out of the crew so demonized was he by Style Wars and Beat Street.