This film tells the true story of a gangster dentist

‘78 on 79th‘ is what happens when you put your money where your mouth is

After watching 78 on 79th, the first thing I looked up was what “iced out” means. Appropriately, according to Urban Dictionary at least, it's used to reference “decorative or jewelry items containing a prolific quantity of diamonds”. Sounds about right. 

78 on 79th, featuring Moonlight's Patrick Decile and fashion icon Thirstin Howl III (who founded the NYC street gang the Lo-Lifes and got us all into Polo by Ralph Lauren), is a stunningly-shot film by London-based videographer Lyle Lindgren. And it is filled with diamonds.

Stark and sometimes playful, it makes you think about flashy teeth grills in a whole new way. We all know rappers and gangsters wear them – but this film forces you to consider the process behind how they are made. That moment of setting your teeth in plaster, and the exchange of stolen money that can sometimes drive sales.

Perhaps the best dialogue of the short is when a bemused white police officer asks his streetwise partner why young men choose to get them fitted. “What a way to waste money, all that shit in your mouth. For what?” His partner counters, “You gotta look at it like this. It's an an investment. These guys will sit in jail for the next 12 to 15 years. And they'll let those stones in their mouth increase in value.” The allure of a grill is practical as well as material.

Lindgren was inspired to make the short after hearing an anecdote about two men who were imprisoned after getting grills fitted. He was shooting Mouth Full Of Golds, a feature-length documentary chronicling the life-story of the man who invented the very first gold fronts in Brooklyn during the early 80s, Lando Golds. Golds helped spread grills culture across the country over three decades. He and his family have made teeth for people like Nas, Mickey Rourke, Ludacris and a teenage Jay-Z.

Dazed chatted to Lindgren to find out more:

Did you get to meet the real-life characters the film is based on?

Lyle Lindgren: Nah, they're locked up in the federal penitentiary doing a long bid.

How did you get access to the dentist?

Lyle Lindgren: Randomly, Lando Golds was roommates with Goldie in Miami during the late 80s and made him his first set of his teeth, right before he came back to the UK and submerged himself into the jungle scene in the 90s. I've interrogated Goldie (who also scores the film) a lot about his teeth over the last few years, so being obsessed with golds I flew out to Lando's shop to meet him and get a bottom set made. We've become good friends since.

Why do you think grills are such a statement?

Lyle Lindgren: They just have so many individual reasons behind wearing them; as a status symbol, an investment or purely for fashion. They're so varied and even the creative decisions behind the actual designs can say a lot about the person. I mean in the 80s in New York when they were first popping it was a way of saying you were getting money in quite tough economical times. You had to be able to back it up, or someone might snatch them out of your mouth.

Do people really use them to sell after being in prison?

Lyle Lindgren: Definitely, jewellery and precious metals are one of the last few commodities that can change hands without too much official protocol. The raw materials can be broken down pawned and traded quite easily. The hardest part is surviving a prison bid and keeping them intact. Inmates have definitely been known to knock teeth out and trade them as currency. It can be quite a lucrative racket. 

What was the filming process like?

Lyle Lindgren: We only had two days to shoot on location and had a small but amazingly on point crew. I wanted the film to have a real sense of authenticity so mainly casted non-actors. The majority of the on screen dentists you see are the actual guys working in the shop day to day, making teeth for trap gods and musicians. The young dental assistant is Patrick Decile from Moonlight (2016) and I was really keen to get him in this film as I loved his performance as Terrel the bully and wanted to show another aspect of Miami adolescence in his role. Also, the tough looking cop is a guy named Thirstin Howl III who is an original founder of the legendary NYC Polo wearing street gang named the Lo-Lifes. I've been a big fan of his clothing and dental style for a long time so was honoured to have him involved. Also big thanks to my DOP Ahmet for being cool with us pointing AK 47's and handguns down the lens at him.

And they're making real sets of teeth on camera?

Lyle Lindgren: Yeah they are making various different sets of teeth for real on camera. They make everything from plain gold pull out grills to permanent crowns flooded with diamonds cemented onto your filled down teeth. Permanent gold crowns are a massive culture in Miami. They just did a set for Kodak Black which are super icy. Most of the steps to make golds are covered on screen from the molds to the casting.

78th on 79th, produced by Caviar, will broadcast in the final episode of Random Acts on Monday 25 September at midnight on C4