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Monday, May 1, 2017

SAVING BANKSY -- DVD Review by Porfle

An interesting thing about documentaries is that you can like a documentary and think it's a good one even if you don't buy its message.  Which is the exactly the case with me and SAVING BANKSY (Candy Factory Films, 2017).  I like it and I think it's really good, but I think the message it's trying to convey is pretty much a load of hooey.

Not that the film is too painfully one-sided in its portrayal of street art/graffiti as sort of a people's art form and Banksy, the mysterious, unknown maestro who reigns as its most celebrated purveyor, as a noble folk hero.  Yes, the cause is presented in a positive light and we're persuaded to sympathize with it, but the actual preaching is mostly left up to the other street artists who are interviewed and by various self-serving quotes attributed to Banksy himself.

These other artists discuss their medium and its messages for awhile, giving the uninitiated a crash course in the subject and laying the groundwork for the main gist of the film which is whether or not Banksy's work should be left to fade away as intended, be painted over by building owners or other "taggers", or somehow be preserved by art collectors and/or preservationists either for display to the public or sale to wealthy collectors.

The latter, of course, goes against the anti-establishment, anti-elitism, anti-capitalism spirit in which the art is created in the first place.  So amidst much handwringing by Banksy's peers we're presented the tale of an earnest art collector who removes a Banksy piece board by board from the side of a building in San Francisco so that it can be displayed free-of-charge to the public, and a somewhat mercenary art dealer who wants to buy it for half a million dollars so that he can make a profit from it.

For the other street artists, both prospects are an anathema.  They seem to fancy themselves as noble renegades, like comic book nerds playing superhero--the Spirit with a brush, the Phantom with a spray can, the Batman with a ladder and some stencils--but with enough artistic cred to have much of the public buy into the image. 

As for me, I say that if your canvas consists of public or private property then you don't have much of a say about the eventual fate of your work.  Nobody's "stealing" it since it doesn't physically belong to the artist anyway. 

Besides, if you leave something lying around in the street, or hanging on a wall somewhere--including your precious rebel artworks which, to be frank, amount to vandalism anyway--you have only yourself to blame if someone makes off with it to hang in a gallery or sell to the highest bidder.

Another point to consider is the fact that, during the time this documentary was filmed, there was a city ordinance in San Francisco that made the building owner responsible for eliminating any such "art" on their buildings under penalty of a fine--taking the matter into a whole new area of responsibility and consequence apart from whatever artistic concerns there may be, and underlining the fact that such graffiti qualifies as a public nuisance.

But why do they do it in the first place? According to such street artists as Banksy friend Ben Eine (among several others interviewed) it's for the adrenaline rush, the excitement of doing something illegal, and the desire to make political and social statements. 

Yet by virtue of their chosen medium they're hardly in a position to complain about how their illicit works end up, or if indeed whether their intended impermanence is thwarted by those seeking to preserve them.

It's interesting to hear these taggers complaining about Banksy's art itself being tagged, "defaced" as it were, as though the lower class of upstart graffiti artists have the nerve to disrespect the upper class of graffiti artists.

And of course, the earnest art collectors come under criticism for being so uncool as to want to preserve Banksy's art for others to appreciate over time rather than grooving over the profundity of how fleeting it is.

As for Banksy himself, he's clearly a talented artist with a wicked sense of humor, yet no more so, in my view, than a clip-art illustrator with an attitude. 

What sets his work apart from any other observational satirist is simply where, how, and under what conditions he chooses to display his work--the fact that it's illegal, and, yes, vandalism, is just as much a part of whatever statement he's making as the content itself.

The documentary, directed by Colin M. Day, is brisk, lean, concise, challenging, and very watchable regardless of one's view on the subject.  Best of all, it successfully presents both sides of it in a way that invites passionate response, as I myself have expressed.  Someone with an opposing viewpoint would, I'm sure, be just as inspired by this film to express theirs. 

Meanwhile, Banksy has gotten just what he wanted out of the whole thing--notoriety, disruption of the status quo, attention to his message, and controversy about things like art vs. commerce.

Rather than any kind of folk hero, as many choose to see him, he strikes me as a very industrious gadfly--perhaps even a mentally-deranged one, striving to satisfy some driving obsession that goes beyond politics or mere social commentary. 

Tech Specs
69 minutes
Aspect Ratio 1:77
Bonus: Behind-the-scenes featurette (17 min.)
Reversible cover art

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