The Legend of COOL “DISCO” DAN is a feature documentary narrated by D.C. native Henry Rollins that tells the story of Washington, D.C. in the 1980s through the eyes of D.C. graffiti legend, COOL “DISCO”DAN. Blending exclusive interviews with dozens of local and national celebrities along with archival footage, Washington natives offer the most comprehensive portrait to date on this critical decade. The development of Go-Go, D.C.’s distinctive style of urban music, racial tensions, crews, sensationalist media, crack, and graffiti are important pieces of this story.
Graffiti historian Roger Gastman and filmmaker Joseph Pattisall spent over ten years researching and documenting the unknown stories of COOL “DISCO” DAN’s D.C. for the project.
The nation’s capital is well-known as the home of The White House, but there is a rich cultural history that exists in the “other” Washington - the part that most tourists never visit, the side that most travel guides unceremoniously leave out.
“The ‘other’ Washington, D.C. is a city almost entirely separate from – and neglected by – the Washington of money, power, and media,” said filmmaker Joseph Pattisall. “It’s a city that was nearly crippled by the crack epidemic of the 1980s, but boasts its own culture centered on the Go-Go beat, a local form of funk pioneered by Chuck Brown. Yet, just like the problems of the dysfunctional city of Washington, the Go-Go culture of what George Clinton dubbed ‘The Chocolate City’ has been almost entirely ignored.”
Playing tour guide through this historical journey, COOL “DISCO” DAN is one of the few people who knew every block of the city during this conflicted time. “The “urban phantom,” as The Washington Post called him, silently ruled the District during the height of the crack epidemic. Along the Red Line, across billboards, and walls in every neighborhood, his distinctive tag announced D.C. was his city. “Ironically, as intrigue around his identity grew, his illegal scrawl became a unifying force,” recalls executive producer Roger Gastman. “At the peak of his reign, he drew the admiration of police officers, drug lords, politicians, and sheltered suburbanites alike. Nobody knew who COOL “DISCO” DAN was, but when Washingtonians saw his name, they knew they were home.”
After years of hesitation, this extremely private character opens up about his twisted path to stardom. From his unusual vantage point he is able to slice through the layers of myth surrounding Go-Go, crews, and cultural order on the streets. As the film follows Dan through mental institutions, warring neighborhoods and vibrant shows, he will help carry viewers straight to the heart of the real D.C.
The documentary film includes interviews with “Mayor For Life” Marion Barry, the late Chuck Brown, D.C. punk historians Ian MacKaye & Mark Andersen, civil rights activist Rev. Walter Fauntroy, local TV personalities Tom Morris of Americas Most Wanted & horror host Count Gore De Vol, Go-Go great Big Tony, former Washington Post journalists Alona Wartofsky & Paul Hendrickson, Go-Go crew members GANGSTER GEORGE, Kenny Ball, MAD MAX and LISA OF THE WORLD, plus many others from the “other” side of the capital. The Legend of COO L “DISCO” DAN chronicles the decade D.C. was largely ignored by its President, but embraced by its own citizens.
The film is directed by Joseph Pattisall and executive produced by Roger Gastman. Caleb Neelon and Iley Brown are associate producers.
Roger Gastman began writing graffiti as a teenager in Bethesda, Maryland. Since then, he has founded and published the pop culture magazines While You Were Sleeping and Swindle, with Shepard Fairey, and authored a dozen graffiti art books including The History of American Graffiti (with Caleb Neelon; Harper Collins, 2011). In 2011, he curated, with Jeffrey Deitch and Aaron Rose, the exhibition Art in the Streets at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Gastman’s film production credits include Banksy’s Exit through the Gift Shop, and the graffiti documentary Wall Writers, and he is currently directing a documentary for Sanrio/ Hello Kitty on the history of the brand and its fans.
Joseph Pattisall started making films as a teenager in Alexandria, Virginia. Growing up in the Washington, D.C. area he found his way into the D.C. music scene and started using his talents to document subculture ranging from harDCore music to hip hop and graffiti. This quickly crossed over into doing music videos for the bands Joseph had built relationships with over the years. He has directed over 40 music videos for labels such as Epitaph, Bridge 9, Equal Vision and Victory Records airing on MTV, MTV2, BET, and FUSE and has over 20 years of nonfiction documentary filmmaking and advertising video experience.
Caleb Neelon was born in 1976 in Boston and is based in neighboring Cambridge. His paintings and installation artwork have appeared in venues such as the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, deCordova Museum, Laguna Beach Art Museum, Dafen Art Museum of Shenzhen, as murals on walls in Kathmandu, Reykjavik, Tegucigalpa, Bermuda, Istanbul, Calcutta, São Paulo, across Europe, as well as numerous hospitals and schools. Caleb Neelon’s Book of Awesome, his first artist monograph, is a 2009 release from Gingko Press. Caleb is co-author (with Roger Gastman) of the landmark 2011 HarperCollins book The History of American Graffiti, and is also co-author of Graffiti Brasil, Street World, and an author or collaborator on nearly a dozen other books. Caleb speaks regularly at universities, international conferences and festivals, recently including TEDxBoston and the United States Embassy and consulates of Canada.
Iley Brown is a D.C. native. He’s a writer/producer, archivist, community organizer, and volunteer for social change via green technologies. He was an extra in crowd scenes for both urban cult film favorites “Wild Style” and “Beat Street” and was a DJ on-air and in clubs in the UK and France. Iley has worked in Promotions, A&R in Los Angeles and New York for CBS Sony, Motown, and Virgin Records. He wrote for DJ Pool mag TRAX, Free and Touch magazine, UK, and was the editor of KACEmagazine. His interest and connection to the music of Washington D.C. has led him to compile the discography for T.T.E.D. Records, the label that originally released many Go-Go titles; and most recently, he has been involved with the highly anticipated Fela Kuti documentary slated for release in 2014.