Wednesday, May 26, 2010


I'm not too familiar with the work of this film: street art. I've heard names like Banksy and Shepard Fairey, but I haven't really followed anything they've done. That's why I found this film to be so interesting. Graffiti, or street art, is pretty cool. These dangerous, elaborate ploys to put up stickers and spray paint of often amusing or thought-provoking work is incredibly admirable. Most of the men featured in this film are true artists. I particularly like Space Invader for all the Space Invader tiles he adheres to public property. The exploits or these often-reclusive people being captured on video is something quite special. It's something normal people would likely never see and for a midwesterner like me it would be rare to even see one of these works of art in person at all. To the aspect of this film that is the simple (narratively, not logistically) task of exhibiting these moments I give an "A".

However, much of the film is actually about the man who captured these moments, Thierry Guetta, Space Invader's cousin. The film's presenter, Banksy, puts out this notion that Guetta is actually more interesting than they are. I would argue that notion, but I suppose the narrative featuring Thierry is what makes this film more than just a simple street-art doc. What's so interesting about this man? He always has a camera on him, he's seemingly neglectful of his family and he seems rather unstable. Thierry has to be given credit for being such a helpful supporter of these renegade street artists for so long, but he also ends up being the harbinger of their doom. When Guetta sets out to make a film from his hundreds of tapes, he ends up with "Life Remote Control", an incoherent mess that inspires Banksy to set him on a new task - becoming a street artist himself. Thierry then becomes "Mr. Brainwash" and goes to work making a name for himself in LA. This culminates in a ridiculously hyped gallery show for the new artist and great success. This seems like a nice ending, but it's not so much when you consider that Mr. Brainwash's work is utter crap. The immense success of his show signifies the entry of street art into the commercial sector, where it ultimately loses life and purpose.

Banksy and others have moved on to larger venues than the street and likely been very profitable from it, but I wouldn't call these people sell-outs like I would Brainwash. Banksy insists that his work was never about the money, which is apparent when you witness his incredibly controversial act at Disneyland on the day of his gallery opening, which likely gained him nothing more than a sense of artistic fulfillment. The top artists still take risks and still do things just for fun. Thierry seems to be all about profits and hype. There's a point near the very end when Shepard Fairey refers to Brainwash's fans as suckers, he couldn't be more right. Street art suddenly became "in", so everyone went nuts for it. Rich people buy it and put it up in their homes for their eyes only, which truly renders it worthless. To make matters worse, the pieces they are buying are uninspired garbage. At one point, Thierry demonstrates how little effort he puts into altering his prints, but these alterations mark the value up 1000%. To be fair, it's not all Thierry's fault, it's also the fault of the lame contemporary art community for being such suckers.

This film is great, I'll say that, but I feel a little less time could have been devoted to Mr. Brainwash. It was an integral point of the conclusion, but some parts of the last act were borderline fluff or filler. He's certainly an interesting part of the evolution of street art, but I wouldn't say he's more interesting that the art itself. On the overall, I'd give this film an "A-".

One final note: There's a lot of speculation as to the authenticity of this film, whether it was a true documentary or not. I'd say it's more interesting if it is authentic, but even if it's not, it ends up at the same conclusion with the same message. I don't think there's much point in arguing about it, but it is a little intriguing.

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