“Guilty As Synth (The Highline Hustle)”
From the film Harlem Girlz and Chelsea Boyz (1983)
Directed by Sapphire Scroggins
Both offensive and affirming in equal measure this bizarre coming-of-age / bank heist hybrid is trebly curious forts dazzling cast of no-name actors – most of whom were pulled straight from the stages and cages of New York’s notorious Spittle Room – a bondage club buried in the basement of a respectable Chelsea skyrise.
Director Sapphire Scroggins – herself an occasional bartender at the club – talked frankly about the genesis of her debut film in a rare 1986 interview with the popular ‘Zine, East Village Eye: “[The film] happened spontaneously, really. I was already making films – small ones – on super8 and 16 mil, and doing direct animation on 35mm when I could find old trailers and that … so whenever I would be at work, talking with the trannies and party boys, and telling them about what I was doing, they’d always tell me to bring my camera down and film them. Always like, ‘Saph, do it. Don’t pay us nothing. Just come down here and we’ll make it up as we go.’ Well, I liked the idea, but there’s no way I was going to waste film on something I didn’t plan at least a little, know what I mean? So over a couple of weeks, while taking the train between Harlem and the club, I’d dream up this story, and these scenes, about a crazy group of thieves made up of a bunch of ladies living up where I did, and these boys from Chelsea – a gang, right, that gets into crazy trouble, you know? And after I had that figured out, I started coming into the club even when I wasn’t working to shoot the film, bringing my girls with me, and just having fun. It took a long time but, shit, it was great. And that final chase on the then-derelict Highline, those dirty-ass rails, it was tight. Almost got arrested for that, but we pulled it off and slipped the fuck out, just as the helicopter went up.”