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'Rubble Kings' details the gritty Bronx of the 1960s and '70s

'Rubble Kings' shows how the Ghetto Brothers helped their brethren in the Bronx to band together

The documentary "Rubble Kings" revisits the lawless gangland that was the Bronx in the 1960s and '70s through former street thugs who lived it.

The film's subjects attribute the neighborhood's unraveling to urban planner Robert Moses' Cross Bronx Expressway, which displaced more than 1,500 families. Those with means moved to Long Island, leaving behind only the economically disadvantaged. Many landlords cut off utilities to drive out tenants so they could burn down homes and collect insurance payouts.

With the rise in homicide and heroin use, tens of thousands joined street gangs fashioned after the Hells Angels and divided up all blocks as turf, the film says. Ambulances and even the police deliberately steered clear. But the Ghetto Brothers — led by "Yellow" Benjy Melendez and Carlos "Karate Charlie" Suarez — exhorted their brethren to band together and fight the Man rather than battle one another. These rebels with a cause realized their vision only after their peace counselor, Cornell "Black Benjy" Benjamin, gave his life.

Aside from interviews with the late former Mayor Ed Koch of New York and the late City College professor Marshall Berman, director Shan Nicholson's film consists of oral histories from the now-reformed gangsters. As such, it can't help but sound a bit embellished, what with all the street monikers and seemingly glorified titles. Fascinating as it may be, the film could have used outside perspectives to provide more context.

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"Rubble Kings"

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Playing: AMC Burbank Town Center 8. Also on VOD.

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