Sunday, July 3, 2011

Biggest enabler movie in some time

Anyone who knows me knows I’m interested in art. But not graffiti. Or as it’s called in this movie, street art. Yes, I’m aware of the fine distinctions. Or so they say. To me, it’s all graffiti, illegal and immoral. When the opening credits first began in this film, Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010), accompanied by scenes of graffiti "artists” vandalizing the sides of buildings, public transit cars, freeway overpasses, etc. – all to the sound (quite lovely if its topic wasn’t so vile) of Richard Hawley’s Tonight the Streets Are Ours – I was ready to switch it off. So this is what the “Banksy” movie was all about. Banksy is a notorious graffiti scrawler (oh, excuse me, artist) who is notorious for remaining anonymous and manages to do so even in this film, wearing a hoodie (what else?) with his voice electronically modified.....But I decided to watch it if only as a piece of sociology about the corrupt era in which we live. And, of course, to write a scathing review.....The film is really about French immigrant Thierry Guetta. Guetta, who ran a vintage clothing store in LA, developed an obsession with videotaping virtually everything around him. He eventually discovers street "artists" and is consumed by their images and the exciting “danger” in which they place themselves – perched high atop buildings, working in the middle of the night, fleeing from police. Through a cousin and graffiti-maker named Invader he meets Shepard Fairey, designer of Barack Obama's 2008 election poster. So, now it can be told, Obama’s iconic image (above) was done by a graffiti artist who spray paints on private and public property. That’s a pretty low level of “hope and change” to aim for.....But Thierry’s ultimate goal is meeting the Big Kuhana himself, Banksy, a self-described "art terrorist”.....So obsessed does Thierry eventually become with graffiti that he decides to engage in it himself. And he has remarkable success. He stages a mammoth exhibition in Hollywood and attracts thousands in what would become possibly the "art" happening of the decade. Thierry’s "art" – twists mostly on existing iconic pop culture images like Warhol, Madonna, Elvis and the Beatles – draws incredible enthusiasm and he comes out of it selling $1 million of the stuff. His legacy now seems firmly in place.....Artists metaphorically have sometimes been referred to as outlaws because their visions challenge existing images, indeed ways of looking at the world. But in the case of those portrayed in this film they really are outlaws. And the picture – nominated for Oscar as Best Documentary Feature – is simply an enabler.

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