An obscure documentary about Philadelphia teenagers in 1967 has been accepted into the Library of Congress this year. A 20-minute black-and-white film called “The Jungle,” about North Philly gang members, was made by the members themselves. Those kids grew up and they’re still here.
A recent trend in documentaries is to give cameras to the subjects. “The Jungle” predated that trend, and arguably did it better. Aside from interviewing one another, the street gang of African-American teenagers dramatized themselves mugging pedestrians, romancing girls; they staged an elaborate fight scene with 20 performers, and made original music.
The lyrics were homemade. “Up on the roof, 100 proof,” one of the songs begins.
Salam Muhsin, aka “Noonie”, is now a real estate developer. He says gang activity in the 60′s was dangerous and criminal, but without the explosive mixture of drugs and automatic weapons. The film was produced by a neighborhood social worker who encouraged the gang to document themselves with grant money. They toured the country with the finished film in the late 60′s.
Muhsin says gangs were an essential part of North Philly neighborhoods.
“My sister got a scholarship to Cornell. We lived in the same house,” he says. “I didn’t! I didn’t want to be like my sister. I wanted to be like the brothers in the neighborhood who were strolling real hard. You see how we dipped, man? With all that pride in our step? I wanted to be with them.”