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STYLE WARS & THE BEASTMASTER

October 25, 2009

“Born with the courage of an eagle, the strength of a black tiger, and the power of a god.”

If you had to push me for the greatest crossover between films, it’s the lowkey meeting of ‘Style Wars’ and ‘The Beastmaster.’ I’m not here to educate you about the scene that links both flicks, but if you’re under 25, you get a pass. With the documentary screened on PBS in 1983, and the motion picture in question released in Summer 1982, two huge influences for me collide on a train platform, on what looks to be an unremarkable afternoon in NYC, as the Fresh Extra Terrestrial/Tellestial Brothers (bear in mind E.T. came out that same year) meet up.

Before a rap session ensues, Kase, Dez (aka. Mr. Slap Your Favourite DJ) and D-5 gather and are distracted by the ‘Beastmaster’ half sheet on the wall in the background. I’d like to know what song Kase is singing on the approach to the poster (“Do you wanna see, do you wanna take a chance?”) Edit -Thanks to rap scholar Mr. Craig Leckie for informing me it’s ‘Do You Wanna Rock’ by Funky 4 +1 but he promptly begins a deconstruction of the art.

D-5 - “Look at that eye.”
Kase – Word, look at that eagle.Word, look at its eye – it’s like its eye. (Pointing at an anatomically exaggerated depiction of Tanya Roberts next to a character that looks nothing like Marc Singer) You know where he got that from, right? Vaughn Bode and who? Frank Frazettaaaaa”


As a result, the half sheet poster for ‘The Beastmaster’ has become something I’ve always wanted on my wall. It’s not actually a great piece of art – as mentioned, the artist doesn’t seem to have seen a picture of the film’s leads, but the composition, within the creepy ‘eye ring’ from the film is excellent, and the lettering (which, like the art, varied for the film’s international release) is fresh too. What I want to know is, who the hell painted it? I’ve spent years trying to find out. In fact, if you know, email me and put me out my misery. I know Josh Kirby painted the UK variation, and I believe Christos Achilleos did the Swedish version, and looking closely at the US art, I can see a semblance of a signature in those rocks.

Why do I want to know so badly? Because I’m weird, and because I love ‘The Beastmaster’ – the ferrets, the sense of darkness, the screws to the head and helmets the berserkers rock and those things that hug you to death. Plus Rip Torn’s general villainy. I love it like I love ‘Conan The Barbarian’ from the same year. Few sword and sorcery films have held up as well as those two. For ‘The Beastmaster’ I attribute it to Don Coscarelli’s imagination and ability to stretch a budget, as demonstrated in the ‘Phantasm’ franchaise, and lately, his Joe Lansdale adaptations.

Nice UK Teaser Poster

‘Conan…’ got Renato Casaro on the art tip (with art from no less than Frazetta himself on the teaser poster, but an old piece from 1965, used on a Conan novel), the underwhelming video store staples that were ‘Deathstalker’ movies had Boris Vallejo art on the posters and covers, presumably licensed from exisiting Vallejo pieces – boy, were they misleading.

I even know who painted the ‘Sword & The Sorcerer’ art – British artist, Peter Andrew Jones, who also created the artwork that fired the imagination of a generation of British schoolboys with his ‘Fighting Fantasy’ book covers. Going down a slightly more mythological route, I know that Tim and Greg Hildebrandt (who created a ‘Star Wars’ poster too) painted the ‘Clash Of The Titans’ poster art.

So who painted ‘The Beastmaster’ art? I gots to know.

That whole fixation on fantastical imagery that helped elevate graffiti is fascinating. The cheesy bombast of a film poster, an underground comic book or a lurid fantasy scene depcting monsters battling barbarians unintentionally became part of the armoury of New York’s style kings, influencing graffiti globally and ultimately contemporary artforms. I know that’s simplifying things, but it’s funny how offbeat inspirations can leach into cultures.

While ‘The Beastmaster’ flopped, it was successful beyond the cinemas – I must’ve seen it ten times on TV in my lifetime, and apparently, HBO showed it regularly to the point where a joke ran that HBO stood for “Hey, Beastmaster’s on!” On the other hand, ‘Style Wars’ wasn’t such a regular screening.

Until I got a fifth generation dub in the early ’90s it hadn’t been shown too often in the UK, though many elders who schooled me on hip-hop matters got misty-eyed about its 1984 Channel 4 screening. I suspect ‘Style Wars’ influenced more young people to wield a marker than ‘The Beastmaster’ had young people wielding swords, but there’s room in my heart for both epics.

Props are due to Kid Acne for his loving tribute to the scene – his own interpretation of the poster, (in one-sheet portrait format this time) complete with ‘Style Wars’ quotes.

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