In the world of graffiti crews, Los Angeles' CBS (Can't Be Stopped) are the Lakers and Raiders, a team equally famous for its stratosphere of stars (Mear One, Craola) and a working-class ethos that ensures eternal respect from the streets that birthed them. You can also throw in the Kings for smart self-promotion: Members Cody Smith and Anger teamed up to create Can't Be Stopped. After about a decade, the resulting film makes its Orange County premiere on Sept. 3 at Garden Grove's Festival Amphitheatre.
As the director, writer and producer, Smith crafted the documentary with old footage from original member DJ Rob One and hundreds of vintage photos to give audiences a first-person look at CBS, as though you're watching a home movie. In addition to narration, he included first-person interviews with the likes of graffiti legends Seen, Mek and Trigz, as well as celebrities such as the Alchemist and David Arquette.
Founding members Frost, Hex, Theory and Demo connected between 1983 and 1984. The name Can't Be Stopped was meant as both a challenge and a boast—in the early days of LA's graffiti scene, they were determined to be first and best to take over the streets with bombs. But the crew truly took off after Hex brought on Aaron Seth Anderson, a.k.a. Skate One, who stood out as a natural leader.
"CBS was about to be done," says PJay of rival crew West Coast Artists (WCA) in the film. "They saw someone who was self-driven and motivated, and they said, 'You know what? Here, man, here's the torch,' and [Skate One] took that torch and set a fuckin' inferno to the city."
Skate One brought together a diverse group of kids from Hollywood, Fairfax and Beverly Hills to cover the City of Angels in paint with artistry instead of tag-banging. After he was struck by a train while photographing his work in 1993, the group hit a setback (there's a moment of silence that causes viewers to viscerally feel the loss), but CBS regrouped under DJ Rob One, who pushed them into the music world and media through their self-published Can Control magazine.
Tragedy struck again when DJ Rob One died from cancer in 1998, but the crew stuck together to carry on their promise to be Southern California's premier crew.
Strangely, Smith quickly goes from that point to the present day, nearly 20 years later. That oversight, however, is more than compensated by his capture of all aspects of the graffiti process, from sketches to discussions to the actual bombing with archival footage. Smith skips over the shootings and fights between CBS and its rivals, only hinting at the violence with the occasional image of members showing off guns and rivals briefly talking about being shot at by CBS.
Can't Be Stopped excellently shows the strength of the bond between CBS members. It didn't matter if they beat the shit out of one another the day before; they were still homies ready to ride for one another at a moment's notice, even if it meant taking on 50 members of a rival crew or the cops themselves. Smith told the Weekly that family members never understood what CBS were truly about until watching the film and now constantly approach them to say, "We thought you were just a bunch of little thugs writing on the walls."
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"Then they realize it was like a fraternity, it was like a family," Smith says. "A lot of us come from broken homes, and we needed a surrogate family, and this really shows how you can grow up on the streets or be from Malibu, yet you can still come from a fucked-up family situation and your friends become your brothers and your family."
The documentary also serves as a time capsule, depicting an era when the art world scoffed at street art and mainstream society deemed it dangerous; today, of course, every ad agency, art gallery and influencer tries to co-op street art for their use.
"I wanted to show the other side of the popularity and how it got popular, what it took to get popular, the back end of it, the city part of it, like people going to jail, people dying, people risking their lives, getting shot at, getting stabbed," Smith says. "Graffiti nowadays is all fun and games, but I want people to realize how difficult [graffiti was] and what people went through to make it what it is today."
Can't Be Stopped was directed by Cody Smith. Premieres at Festival Amphitheatre, 12762 Main St., Garden Grove, (949) 415-8544; www.facebook.com/gardenamphitheatre.com. Sept. 3, 5 p.m. $22.70 (includes access to art installations, live performances and DJ sets). All ages.