Streetwise is a 1984 documentary film by director Martin Bell. 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 (Bell’s wife).

According to Mark’s accompanying 1988 book, eponymously titled Streetwise, McCall and Mark traveled to Seattle Washington 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 youth during the writing of the article, Mark convinced Bell that the youth 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 young 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”.

One of Tiny’s Halloween costumes:

You can watch the ENTIRE documentary here:

This was a real mind opener. For a film it was riveting as well as compelling. When I found an original on YouTube with only the left audio channel, I downloaded it, copied and mixed the audio into stereo and reuploaded it as you see it here. It affected me that much.

As for so many documentaries these days this had the raw. It had the grit. It just had something that so many lacked. THE 80’s.

This one is for the ages. I was touched and at moments, it had me in tears.

ME – Kevin Goldman