Directed, written and acted by teenagers Charlie Davis, David Williams and Jimmy Robinson, 1967’s The Jungle chronicles the exploits of Philadelphia’s 12th and Oxford street gang. It is amateur film making that transcends its limitations and achieves a certain rough artfulness.
With its starkly poetic black and white cinematography, urban rhythm and streetwise jargon The Jungle recalls Shirley Clarke’s The Cool World and the Beat-era improvs of Cassavetes’ Shadows. The fact that theThe Jungle holds its own against some of the sixties more legendary indie films makes it somewhat disappointing that none of the people involved with the production of the film went on to make more movies.
There’s little info on the internet regarding The Jungle, but the I found the following comment from Youtube compelling:
This film (The Jungle) was shown along with slide shows of dead teens on slabs in the 70’s in schools around Philly to try to stop the gang violence at that time. In the early ‘70s, Philly led the nation in gang-related deaths at around 40 a year.
Death Row inmate, Philly gang member and writer Reginald S. Lewis recalls the Oxford Street gangs:
I saw the 70’s usher in the era of blackploitation flicks such as Superfly, The Mack, Come Back, Charleston Blue, and even slickly packaged Hollywood gangster movies like The Godfather. This was also an era that bred hustlers-turned-authors IceBerg Slim and Donald Goines, and some of the most ruthless true-life gangsters this country has ever seen.
In my hometown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, vicious black street gangs seemingly ruled every inch of the black community, and it was a dangerous time to be a young black teenager living in the treacherous terrain of the urban wilds. My parents did all they could to keep my two older brothers and me from being drafted into the notorious “12th & Oxford Street Gang,” one of the largest, fiercest black youth gangs in the history of Philadelphia.
The Oxford Street gang had well over 500 members, divided into gradations and ranks, according to age. There were the “Pee Wees,” “The Midgets,” “The Juniors,” and “The Seniors,” and “The Old Heads.” There was also 8th & Oxford, 15 & Oxford, and “Uptown Oxford Street,” which was 20th Street, and beyond. These divisions boosted the ranks into thousands.”
Teenage wasteland, Philly-style.