Documentary review in one tweet
French guy who looks like General Ambrose Burnsides obsessively films street artists. Then he becomes a street artist? Maybe. Wait...what?
"I used to encourage everyone I knew to make art. I used to think everyone should do it.... I don't really do that anymore." - Banksy
So I first heard about this doc a couple years ago from one of my former college professors, and I have been meaning to see it ever since. The premise sounded like something that I should have an opinion on, especially among all the intellectual arty people that I know. Which is four. I know four intellectual arty people. I figured they would want to know what I thought about it.
The film follows the story of a French immigrant named Thierry Guetta, a guy who has the full beard/sideburns/mustache/bare chin look that was so popular during the Civil War. Guetta has this weird habit of obsessively filming almost everything that goes on in his life. He never actually watches these tapes or does anything with them. When a tape fills up, he sticks it in a box and forgets about it.
At one point, we're told that this habit comes from an early childhood trauma, in which Guetta missed the death of his sick mother, leading to a compulsive need to record everything permanently. I'm not sure I believe that, but it's as good an explanation as any, I suppose, and it sounds more reasonable than "he's crazy."
At any rate, when Guetta goes back to France for a vacation, he finds out that his cousin is the street artist Invader, so named because he puts pictures of characters from the Space Invaders video game on public signs and walls. This leads Thierry to a whole bunch of other street artists with wonderful names like Seizer, Neckface, Sweet Toof, Cyclops, Ron English, Dot Masters, Barf, and Buffmaster. This, in turn, led me to spend about twenty minutes after the film trying to come up with a street artist name for myself, briefly considering "Gandalf the Pale" and "Onomatopoeia" before finally settling on "St. Penguin." I would probably paint a lot of serious looking penguins in mitres. (A mitre is a big pointy hat that bishops wear, for those of you who aren't Catholic scholars.)
Anyway, Guetta eventually meets Banksy, the most famous street artist in the world and the maker of this film. At this point in Banksy's career, he's just starting to become super famous, and his works of art are being sold for thousands and thousands of dollars, or "pounds" as the British like to call them. There's this vague sense of wrongness associated with this commodification of street art, a suspicion that somehow Banksy's art loses its creative power the moment you put a price tag on it. Banksy's response to this is to ask Thierry to put together a documentary about street art, to show people that its not about the money, money, money; we don't need your money, money, money; we're just trying to make the world dance, and spraypaint cartoons on walls.
So Guetta does so, putting together a little film called Life Remote Control, which is pretty horrible, even worse than What the #$*! Do We Know!?. Banksy kindly tells Thierry to go home to L.A. and "do a little art" while he's waiting for the documentary to be finished. But this is Thierry Guetta we're talking about here, and he doesn't do anything unless he can do it obsessively. So instead of just putting a few stencils up here and there, Guetta decides to put on a massive art show instead, renting out an abandoned warehouse and filling it with the street art of his new alter ego Brainwash.
And this art looks...um...let's say that it looks like a slightly more horrible version of the art Banksy does, like Guetta essentially just copied Banksy's whole style and repackaged it as his own.
Oh yeah, and he made like millions of dollars doing this. That left me with two questions:
Question 1: Guetta almost never creates any of this art himself. He pays a number of graphic designers and production specialists to do it for him. He gives them a vision and they execute that vision. So who is the artist? Isn't it the people actually putting paint to canvas (or clicking the mouse in Photoshop, or nailing the TVs together to make a giant robot)? So why is Thierry getting all the credit and money?
Question 2: Doesn't all of his stuff kind of look the same? (the answer to this one is yes, yes it does.)
By the end of the movie, I couldn't tell if I was supposed to be happy for Guetta, sad for the world, or whether I was supposed to just laugh at the whole thing. He's either crazy or he's serious or he's joking. And so is the rest of the world.
8 cold, frosty beers (out of 10)
There's enough pretty stuff to look at here that even if you aren't into complicated questions about the place of art in modern capitalism you'll probably enjoy it. The crazy story involving Disney police and Guantanamo Bay is worth watching by itself.
St. Penguin would like everyone to know that you can buy his paperclip sculptures for $2.99 each. Though he'll take a million if you've got it.