You Have to See This! NY77: The Coolest Year in Hell (2007)

“New York wasn’t burning. It was burnt!”

Director Henry Corra’s exploration of what New York was in 1977 is quite fantastic and a surprisingly rare chronicle of the political and economic turmoil that ironically bred timeless art and music. As a born and bred Bronxite, 1977 is a mythical year, and a period of the decade that I’ve heard about very often from elder family members. In particular, the night of the infamous black out of New York, my mom and uncle were stuck in the edge of downtown Manhattan and had to brave their way home during the mass looting and rioting. “NY77” garners a very unique tone that balances out the inherent importance of the year, the depressing living conditions of the city, and the obvious fun that was had by most, who managed to endure poverty with laughs and creativity.

“NY77” covers a myriad topics from the decade, from the invention of disco music, the dangerous nature of coming out as gay, the political feud between Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo, the graffiti sub-culture, the viciously deteriorating infrastructure of Bronx neighborhoods, the Son of Sam, and of course, the invention of hip hop. The latter allows for some of the most entertaining and funny material, as director Corra explores the birth of a ton of interesting and notable DJ’s and artists, and the feuds for territory and audience that immediately sprang. There are some very lively and frank interviews with everyone that occupied New York during the year, from legendary rapper KRS-One, the godfather of hip hop Afrika Bambaataa, to porn star Annie Sprinkles, who laughingly admits she was giving a client oral sex when the lights went out during that summer.

There are also talks with Gloria Gaynor, DJ Disco Wiz, Geraldo Rivera, and Hilly Kristal, respectively, all of whom were a witness to something very significant during that year. What’s most interesting is how everyone here laughingly thinks back to the period, even with fondness, especially considering most of the anecdotes recall living through great poverty, and an era where the gang lifestyle was almost essential to surviving. There’s also a very stark look at the reign of terror inflicted by the Son of Sam, and how he literally paralyzed New York with fright, especially considering how quickly prominent newspapers exploited his crimes for big headlines.

In one instance, DJ Disco Wiz laughingly explains that Son of Sam never made it to the Bronx, because he likely would have been executed by the gang population. “NY77” is still a very relevant and compelling examination on how history and legends rise from pain and war, and how important art is, especially during times of suffering. Without a lot of these pitfalls, we likely never would have had Disco, Hip Hop, Punk, and or New Wave. Even if you didn’t grow up in the seventies, “NY77” is a wonderful time capsule that props up an evocative and memorable snap shot of New York when it was an artistic mecca, and the environmental dangers were par for the course when living among such diversity and creative innovation.