For most, the name Banksy stirs up images of whimsical rebellion. For those unfamiliar with his work, he is a street artist, bringing provocative images into the public eye like no other. In 2010, the famous and unidentified Banksy became a rather ingenious filmmaker, turning this strange little documentary on its head that shows us what the art world has become.
First, we have to meet Theirry. He is a Frenchman living in Los Angeles who lives with a video camera in his hand. He constantly films everything around him, from playing with his kids at home, walking down the street, even flushing a toilet. It seems he has a compulsive need to record the world around him with no real focus.
Until he happens upon a street artist. He finds Space Invader preparing his work one night and begins following him, recording as he assists in helping him put up his art in the middle of the night. Theirry meets more street artists and becomes wrapped up in their world, out many nights, recording and helping them put their work up. Eventually, Theirry meets Banksy and helps him pull off a stunt in Disneyland. Thanks to Theirry, who hid the evidence and lied to the Disney-police, Banksy gets away and fully trusts Theirry.
***Spoiler Alert*** From here on, I strongly suggest you see the film before reading on.
So when Theirry decides to become an artist himself, Banksy and other street artists Theirry has befriended are nothing but supportive. However, Theirry’s new persona, Mister Brainwash, just seems to be a rip-off of everything he has seen and learned from other artist. Most of his work takes an iconic piece of art from another era and changes one element. Like turning Warhol’s Campbell’s soup into a spray paint can, or throwing American Gothic through a photoshop filter where it is only vertical lines. His work is a mess, with no direction and seems to lean on the genius of other, more worthy artists. With all the hype that went into opening his gallery, the quality of his work makes no difference and he makes over a million dollars.
What does this say about today’s art world? Is there more integrity in anonymously spraying your unique mark across the world or only making things like everyone else for money? I think Bansky describes the dilemma best saying, “Most artists take years to develop their style, Thierry seemed to miss out on all those bits.” And it’s those bits that create an artist, not just a man mimicking others.
What makes this film a great documentary is the narrative flow and the inside look we get at the world of a street artist. Some of the most intriguing moments in the film are watching Invader, Fairey, Borf and others trying to discretely display their art. Sometimes they are on dangerous rooftops in the dead of night, or in the middle of day just trying not to attract attention. Watching Fairey get some of his work printed at Kinkos made me wonder if the employees there knew exactly who he was and what he was doing.
In the end, the whole film becomes a wonderful look at the stories and work behind street art and one big joke on Theirry. When it first came out, many thought the film was a hoax. I feel that it is genuine, genius and a perfectly smart-ass way for Banksy to lift a big middle finger to his Frankenstein monster, Mister Brainwash.
“Warhol repeated iconic images until they became meaningless, but there was still something iconic about them. Thierry really makes them meaningless.”