Streetwise (1984 film)

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Streetwise (1984 film).jpg
Directed by Martin Bell
Produced by Cheryl McCall
Written by Cheryl McCall
Starring Baby Gramps
Tom Waits
Release date
  • 1984 (1984)
Running time
91 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Streetwise is a 1984 documentary film by director Martin Bell.[1] It followed in the wake of a July 1983 Life magazine article, "Streets of the Lost", by writer Cheryl McCall and photographer Mary Ellen Mark,[2][3] Bell's wife.[4]

According to Mark's accompanying 1988 book, eponymously titled Streetwise,[5] McCall and Mark traveled to Seattle specifically to reveal that even in a town that billed itself as America's most livable city, there still existed rampant homelessness and desperation. After making connections with several homeless children during the writing of the article, Mark convinced Bell that the children were worthy of his making a documentary based on their lives. McCall and Mark were also instrumental in making the film. Streetwise follows the lives of several homeless teenagers, although it focuses most on 14-year-old Erin Blackwell, a child prostitute who goes by the name of Tiny. Much of the time, Tiny stays at the home of her alcoholic mother, Pat, who seems unfazed by her daughter's prostitution, calling it a "phase".

Bell's follow-up documentary, named Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell, was released in 2016.

Plot summary[edit]

Streetwise portrays the lives of nine desperate teenagers. Thrown too young into a seedy, grown-up world, these runaways and castaways survive, but just barely. Rat, the dumpster diver; Tiny, the teenage prostitute; Shellie, the baby-faced one; and DeWayne, the hustler, are all old beyond their years. All are underage survivors fighting for life and love on the streets of downtown Seattle, Washington.


The film was acclaimed by audiences. On Rotten Tomatoes, the audience gave it a score of 98%.[6]


At the premiere of the sequel in Seattle in 2016 Bell announced that a DVD release of the first film is being planned. Currently only VHS copies are available at Vidiots in Santa Monica and Scarecrow in Seattle. Scarecrow also has a PAL copy.


Mark photographed many of the children throughout the filming of Streetwise and published a book of the same name in 1988. The photographs are captioned with quotations from the film. The transcript of Bell's film appears at the end of the book, with only minor differences.

What became of the kids[edit]

(Corresponds to the order of the cast list)

  • Dewayne Pomeroy: As shown in the movie, he hanged himself in July 1984, the day before his 17th birthday. Some of the street kids held a balloon release and planted a tree in Freeway Park in his memory. Plaque 21394 on the ground at the Pike Place Market says "Dewayne Pomeroy 1984".[7][8] His story and relationship with his felon father was the inspiration for the 1992 film American Heart with starring Jeff Bridges, with Edward Furlong playing Dewayne's part.
  • Justin Early authored a book, Street Child: A Memoir, based on his experience as a homeless child.[9]
  • Lou Ellen "Lulu" Couch was fatally stabbed by a man at an arcade on 1st and Pike Street during a fight in December 1985.[8] Her last words were, "Tell Martin and Mary, Ellen Lulu died". Plaque 21393 on the ground at the Pike Place Market says "Lulu Couch 1985".[7] Approximately 319 people attended her funeral.[citation needed]
  • Patti died of HIV/AIDS.[10]
  • Rat is married with children and has grandchildren.
  • Roberta Joseph Hayes fell victim to Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer. Ridgway's 44th victim, 21-year-old Hayes disappeared on February 7, 1987; her remains were found on September 11, 1991.[10][11][12]
  • Shadow has worked as a carpenter and a security guard.[10]
  • Erin Blackwell ("Tiny"): When Streetwise was nominated for a 1984 Academy Award for documentary,[1] Tiny attended the Oscar ceremony with Bell and Mark. Despite Tiny's celebrity, however, her life did not radically change tracks. Mark has returned to Seattle to photograph Tiny many times since 1983, and photographs of Tiny have appeared in Mark's later books, which reveal that in the years after the Streetwise projects, Tiny continued her prostitution, became a drug addict, and gave birth to ten children fathered by several different men. In 1993, 10 years after the making of the film, she was featured in an ABC news program called Tiny's Story. In the mid-2000s, however, Mark and Bell's 23-minute film Erin revealed that Tiny had cleaned up and settled down with a husband and her minor children.[4] As of 2005, the Mary Ellen Mark Films web page devoted to the Erin films indicated Erin had ten children.[10][13]

In March 2013 a Streetwise Facebook group was opened up in hopes of finding the kids from the documentary. Almost all the main characters (and some minor characters) were found. The group has recent pictures of Rat, Munchkin, Tiny, Justin, Lillie and many others. There are also memorials set up for the kids who are deceased. Old videos and pictures of the kids were found and posted. As of 2015, over 1,700 fans and Streetwise alumni participate and post in the group. Both Martin Bell and Mary Ellen Mark (posthumously) commented that they greatly enjoyed seeing all the kids they filmed over 30 years ago.


On November 20, 2013, Mary Ellen Mark and Martin Bell launched the "Streetwise: Tiny Revisited" project on Kickstarter. The project exceeded the funding goal of US$60,000 (equivalent to about $61,700 in 2016) by the time funding closed on December 20, 2013.[14] The film, titled Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell, had its premiere at the 2016 Seattle International Film Festival. It focuses on the life of Tiny and her family over the 30+ years since Streetwise.[15]

A new book was published in conjunction with the film.[16] Streetwise: Tiny Revisited was published in the fall of 2015 by Aperture, and includes photos taken by Mark over 30 years of friendship with Tiny Blackwell.[17][18]

In popular culture[edit]

The character Rat's line "I love to fly. It's just, you're alone with peace and quiet, nothing around you but clear, blue sky. No one to hassle you. No one to tell you where to go or what to do. The only bad part about flying is having to come back down to the fucking world." is sampled in the song "Zap!" by The Avalanches (2016) [19] as well as the songs "Say My Name or Say Whatever" by How to Dress Well (2012)[20] and "In 1983 He Loved to Fly" by 1 Mile North (2003).


  1. ^ a b "NY Times: Streetwise". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-11-16. 
  2. ^ Berman, Eliza (26 May 2015). "See Mary Ellen Mark's Most Memorable Photo Essay". Time. Retrieved 28 May 2015. 
  3. ^ Cheryl McCall (Text), Mary Ellen Mark (Photographs) (July 1983). "Streets of the Lost: Runaway Kids Eke Out a Mean Life in Seattle". LIFE MAGAZINE. 
  4. ^ a b Miller, Brian (October 4, 2006). "Where She Is Now: Once the teen star of Streetwise, Tiny's tale is continued after 22 years". Seattle Weekly. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  5. ^ Cheryl McCall & Mary Ellen Mark (photographer) (1988). Streetwise. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0812212681. 
  6. ^ "Streetwise (1984)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "Streetwise: Postscript". Mary Ellen Mark website. July 18, 1987. Retrieved July 2013.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  8. ^ a b Bygrave, Mike (February 2, 1986). "On the Streets Where They Live". London Sunday Times. London, England. Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  9. ^ Early, Justin Reed (June 20, 2014). "Book Summary". Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b c d Lafreniere, Steve (June 30, 2008). "Mary Ellen Mark (interview)". Vice. New York, New York. Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  11. ^ Berger, Knute (March 20, 2014). "Seattle's creepy Donut Shop: The inside story". Crosscut Public Media. Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  12. ^ "Prosecutor's Summary of the Evidence, Case No. 01-1-10270-9 SEA; State of Washington vs. Gary Leon Ridgway; in the Superior Court of Washington for King County" (PDF). King County Prosecutor's Office. November 2003. Retrieved November 11, 2014. Roberta Hayes (Count XXXIV) 
  13. ^ "Greene House Studio: Erin". Mary Ellen Mark Films. Retrieved July 2013.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  14. ^ Mark, Mary Ellen; Bell, Martin (November 20, 2013). "STREETWISE: Tiny Revisited". Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Three decades after 'Streetwise' documentary, 'Tiny' struggles and dreams on". The Seattle Times. May 20, 2016. 
  16. ^ Brodeur, Nicole (February 2, 2014). "Mary Ellen Mark revisits 'Streetwise' 30 years later". Seattle Times. Seattle, Washington. Retrieved October 24, 2014. 
  17. ^ Grimes, William (26 May 2015). "Mary Ellen Mark, Photographer Who Documented Difficult Subjects, Dies at 75". The New York Times. 
  18. ^ Mark, Mary Ellen; Allende, Isabel; Irving, John (October 2015). Tiny: Streetwise Revisited. Aperture. ISBN 978-1597112628. OCLC 910702782. 
  19. ^ The Avalanches – Zap!, retrieved 2016-08-08 
  20. ^ "How to Dress Well: Total Loss Album Review | Pitchfork". Retrieved 2016-08-08. 

External links[edit]