Streetwise / Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell (The Criterion Collection)
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In 1983, director Martin Bell, photographer Mary Ellen Mark, and journalist Cheryl McCall set out to tell the stories of homeless and runaway teenagers living on the margins in Seattle. Streetwise follows an unforgettable group of kids who survive by hustling, panhandling, and dumpster diving. Its most haunting and enduring figure is iron-willed fourteen-year-old Erin Blackwell, a.k.a. Tiny; the project’s follow-up, Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell, completed thirty years later, draws on the filmmakers’ long relationship with their subject, now a mother of ten. Blackwell reflects with Mark on the journey they’ve experienced together, from Blackwell’s battles with addiction to her regrets to her dreams for her children, even as she sees them repeat her own struggles. Taken together, the two films create a devastatingly frank, empathetic portrait of lost youth growing up far too soon in a world that has failed them, and of a family trying to break free of the cycle of trauma—as well as a summation of the life’s work of Mark, an irreplaceable artistic voice. DIRECTOR-APPROVED TWO-DVD SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES • New, restored high-definition digital transfers of both films, supervised by director Martin Bell • New audio commentary on Streetwise featuring Bell • New interview with Bell about photographer Mary Ellen Mark • New interview with Streetwise editor Nancy Baker • Four short films by Bell • Trailer • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing • PLUS: An essay by historian Andrew Hedden; journalist Cheryl McCall’s 1983 Life magazine article about teenagers living on the street in Seattle; and reflections on Blackwell written by Mark in 2015 Streetwise Seattle, 1983. Taking their camera to the streets of what was supposedly America’s most livable city, filmmaker Martin Bell, photographer Mary Ellen Mark, and journalist Cheryl McCall set out to tell the stories of those society had left behind: homeless and runaway teenagers living on the city’s margins. Born from a Life magazine exposé by Mark and McCall, Streetwise follows an unforgettable group of at-risk children—including iron-willed fourteen-year-old Tiny, who would become the project’s most haunting and enduring figure, along with the pugnacious yet resourceful Rat and the affable drifter DeWayne—who, driven from their broken homes, survive by hustling, panhandling, and dumpster diving. Granted remarkable access to their world, the filmmakers craft a devastatingly frank, nonjudgmental portrait of lost youth growing up far too soon in a world that has failed them. Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell In Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell, director Martin Bell and photographer Mary Ellen Mark draw on their thirty-year relationship with one of the most indelible subjects of Streetwise. Now a forty-four-year-old mother of ten, Erin Blackwell, a.k.a. Tiny, reflects with Mark on the journey they’ve experienced together, from Blackwell’s battles with addiction to her regrets to her dreams for her own children, even as she sees them being pulled down the same path of drugs and desperation that she was. Interweaving three decades’ worth of Mark’s photographs and footage that includes previously unseen outtakes from Streetwise, this is a heartrending, deeply empathetic portrait of a family struggling to break free of the cycle of trauma, as well as a summation of the life’s work of Mark, an irreplaceable artistic voice.
- Package Dimensions : 18.9 x 13.59 x 1.6 cm; 145.15 Grams
- Media Format : NTSC, Subtitled
- Studio : The Criterion Collection
- ASIN : B08Z1RTS17
- Number of discs : 2
- Best Sellers Rank: 66,724 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
- 51,137 in Movies (Movies & TV)
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Documentaries rarely come as harrowing as Martin Bell and Mary Ellen Mark’s Streetwise. Spinning off from a photo shoot Mark did for Life Magazine about street kids in Seattle, it is a time capsule of a city worlds away from, but also presaging, the Seattle of today. It is a peek at the early stages of a gentrification that allowed Seattle to go from humble fishing/factory town to prohibitively expensive tech bubble, and of who loses in that deal.
Streetwise was filmed in 1983, around the time that Seattle was increasingly being declared one of the most “livable” cities in the United States. Then as now, that meant a lot of (mostly white) yuppies moving in and pushing the city’s working class to the margins. With that comes economic strife, divorce, abuse, and indeed, a lot of runaway teens.
The wandering youth we see in Streetwise are, to varying degrees, victims of those circumstances. They are escapees from abusive or indifferent homes, who’ve decided a life of dumpster diving, squatting in abandoned motels, or turning to teenage sex work made more sense than whatever was happening in those homes.
The nearly four decades between the initial release of Streetwise and now has not muted its impact one iota. It’s still heartbreaking and infuriating, a beautiful piece of art about very difficult lives.
If Streetwise documents the dawn of Seattle’s yuppification, then Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell shows the result of three decades of fallout. Blackwell, a 14 year old sex worker in Streetwise, is the clear heart of that film, the camera inextricably drawn to her chattiness and wounded vulnerability. Mark and Bell maintained contact with, and continued to film, Blackwell in the ensuing years until Mark’s death in 2015; this feature-length film represents the most recent efforts, capturing Blackwell in her mid-40s.
By the time of Tiny, Blackwell is a mother of 10, living in the further-out suburbs of Seattle. Her kids are running into a lot of the same problems she did: drugs, illness, a little bit too much time in the street. There’s a lot of love in Tiny, but there’s also a lot of unresolved emotional trauma: Blackwell’s relationship with her children is often strained, her relationship with her mother still fraught with crackling tension. People of means might be able to better address the toxicity here, but absent the right medicine, one just ends up picking at scabs and never healing.
Neither Streetwise or Tiny quite qualify as agitprop: though intimate and caring, neither film amounts to a call to arms. Still, if you can walk away from these films not caring about what happens to the people in them, or other people like them, then you might have problems bigger than anything movies can solve.
Loads of great extras - all essential viewing.
(a quick note on the Criterion version: a great deal! Two documentaries and plenty of bonus material! Restoration top notch as usual!)
In the documentary "Seventeen" I noted that it was boring but raw. I'm not sure where the new style of highly edited documentary began but I'm guessing Michael Moore. His documentaries are highly edited and very entertaining. They are also incredibly one sided to the point that they are dishonest. I'd suggest watching "Fahrenheit 911" then "Fahrenhype 911" that documents just how one sided Moore's documentaries can be. "Super Size Me," as I mentioned in my review of "Seventeen," is another example of shallow exposure with little self reflection or truly challenging subject matter. So almost all documentaries I've seen have been highly edited. That's not to say "Streetwise" is not highly edited. It is, in fact that's one of its strengths. However, like in "Seventeen" it has no narration, well, that's not true, it has no narrator proper, rather the subjects narrate their own footage. Another similarity to "Seventeen" is the subject matter: "teens in trouble." I felt as I watched it that it wasn't trying to sell a perspective to me though. It felt nore like it was truly documenting these young homeless teens and how they were thrust into impoverished adulthood in the streets of Seattle. So I would still call it "raw" just like "Seventeen" even though the editing was much more frequent and, in my opinion, superior.
At around the 28 minute mark I'd call "Streetwise" nothing short of shocking. As of the writing of this review it's been almost 40 years aince the events of this film and it doesn't matter at all. Time has done nothing to erode how disturbing it is to see children caught up in this world. They all say similar things about their families, that no one really cared about them. Are they playing it up for the cameras? What I mean is that do they say these things to brandish some victimhood to excuse their behavior? I know some of this has to be played up for the cameras to one degree or another but my guess is that this is how they really feel. I like how "Streetwise" lets me decide if this is important or not. Yes, the editing could be selective but the reliance on me to see and think about what I'm seeing is there.
A movie from 1995 entitled "Kids" was a pretty depressing film that I found to be far fetched at the time but now I realize that life on the street was probably worse than that movie depicted at that time.
"Streetwise" also had a very organized structure. The first half is the life of these children on the street and their feelings for their families. The second half we get to actually meet their families and there seems to be a disconnect between how these children feel and what may actually be the case. The parents and families seem to show great care and affection for what many would call "garbage human beings." In the case of the Green River Killer he was able to exploit the disconnected nature of prostitutes and their loved ones to get away with his murders for years. If you watch the court proceedings though many grieving family members showed up and expressed anger and resentment. My conclusion on this is that it's possible that the disconnect with their families may actually be self inflicted in more cases than we know or care to admit. "Streetwise" is aptly titled because we learn what life on the street is like and what skills are needed to survive straight from the mouths of its survivors. We also get an overview of how we fool ourselves about the complexities of poverty.
In the backdrop of all of the pathos is 80's culture and it time stamped everything for me. I knew exactly what was going on in my life at the time of the events of "Streetwise" and that helped me put things into context. So the makers of the film preserved the posterity with great expertise and that's not true for every documentary. Anyone can benefit from watching this, it's universal and timeless.
The end: wow. I initially thought it was showing me that the gruff exterior of these kids was a defense mechanism that was let down in the moments of the tender touch of the soul of another human being in the same situation. The reality is that it showed me that I had a place in my heart for this so called "street trash." "Streetwise" is an unpretentious life lesson for anyone who watches it. It is by far the greatest documentary I've ever seen and I've seen many.
Wish details about the region were in the description from the seller.
Reviewed in the United States on 3 July 2021
Wish details about the region were in the description from the seller.