“Rubble Kings” traces the history of Gotham gangs through the impassioned testimony of former members. The film’s lively roster of former Savage Skulls, Black Spades, Assassinators, Ghetto Brothers, Hitmen or Turban Queens, expressively recalling and explaining gang culture, is matched only by its flood of down-and-dirty archival imagery. The kinetic, dynamically edited docu mainly concentrates on New York in the ’70s, vividly evoking the feelings of disenfranchised youth who roamed a then-bankrupt, decaying city, divided the area into turfs and directed their anger against each other. Pic merits further fest exposure before PBS or cable beckons.
Helmer Shan Nicholson, whose “Downtown Calling” evoked the same period from a Lower Manhattan/club-scene perspective, here gives pride of place to the arson-swept South Bronx and its surprisingly articulate ex-warriors. Cramming a lot of anecdotes, urban lore and frenzied movement into a mere 71 minutes, Nicholson’s docu imperceptibly builds to an unexpected, revelatory climax. The gap between the ’70s imagery and the present-day talking-head accounts gradually narrows as several of the key interviewees reappear, 40 years younger, in the archival footage, playing leading roles in the gangs’ transition from violent packs to community peacemakers.