“Every person, no matter how big or tough they are, should always have a partner. You never want to go on the streets alone. It’s a mistake. It’s just you’ll get lonely, you’ll get upset, you’ll get beat up. Because, you never can tell if someone’s gonna come up from the front of you and start to get your attention, and this other dude is gonna walk up behind you and bust your fuckin’ head. Partners are always better.”
I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m suffering a bout of lower-middle class guilt for getting mad at an image hosting site for a whole hour while kids are out there starving, or just because it’s always on my mind as an underappreciated document of the realness in it’s unfortunate bin-digging, prostituting and pimping form, but the 1984 documentary ‘Streetwise’ is on my mind again. Set among the down and out residents of Seattle’s streets, it’s essential viewing for you ’80s teen on screen connoisseurs, and the polar opposite to John Hughes’s fictional youth angst of the era.
Inspired by Mary Ellen Mark’s ‘Streets Of The Lost’ assignment for LIFE (curiously omitted from the new Google image archive), which was expanded on in the out-of-print 1988 book ‘Streetwise’ (a belated film tie-in of sorts) it’s a masterpiece, but Mary’s images, as with her many other projects, are striking and gritty. I’ve mentioned this before but there’s few happy endings and it’s absolutely essential viewing and reading. Mary Ellen Mark’s site is comprehensive regrding this project, from archived 1986 tie-in Sunday Times articles to the text and images of the July 1983 LIFE piece. There’s more imagery and captions here.
If you’re troubled by the fate of ‘Tiny’ (pictured above on the promotional materials) this blog piece sheds some light. There’s been a couple of local news follow-ups that are floating around out there, but it’s a fascinating albeit gruelling piece of documentation. Kudos to Mary and Martin Bell for pulling no punches.
As a bonus, here’s Tom Waits’s theme song of sorts, ‘Take Care Of All My Children’ and (providing it hasn’t been pulled from YouTube again), ‘Streetwise’.