Artillery Magazine Review

Check out our review in Artillery Magazine (vol 2 no 2 nov/dec 2007) by Skot Armstrong just hitting stands now.

Blek Le Rat Photo

“The first time that my apartment in Hollywood got tagged, I was informed by a neighborhood crazy three floors below. With much enthusiasm, he pointed to my building and crowed: “You live in art! The toilet guy signed your building.” As I pondered his reading of graffiti, “Marcel Duchamp, so much to answer for” became my coping mechanism whenever a new tag appeared.

Thus it was with muted enthusiasm that I decided to check out a new documentary on graffiti art. A big motivation for checking out this one was the filmmaker, Jon Reiss. If you think you don’t know his work, perhaps you have recently caught Better Living through Circuitry. Or maybe you glimpsed the banned Nine Inch Nails video. He was also the brave soul who documented the work of Mark Pauline. If you don’t know Pauline’s work, it includes explosions and giant menacing robots, with appendages that might feature a whirring saw blade or a flame thrower. Pauline lost part of a hand building one of these. Reiss has a knack for knowing where the action is, and he never does things half way. So if he expends the effort to document graffiti, one is likely to learn something new. And “Bomb It! The Global Graffiti Documentary” delivers the goods.

The world of street art is as diverse as the world of proper galleries. (In fact many practitioners hold dual citizenship) Reiss starts us off with a history lesson. Tagging as we now know it is thought to have originated in Philadelphia with a fellow named CornBread in the mid 1960’s. His work was nothing fancy or calligraphic. He simply wrote his name on any surface that he encountered. Before long he had a sort of local fame. Other people got inspired by his efforts and started writing too. Soon they were aiming higher than merely scribbling their name, and the familiar visual vocabulary of graffiti as we know it evolved.

Reiss manages to get a camera crew to five continents, where he interviews local taggers. We are allowed to follow crews with night vision cameras to forbidden places, where a lesser filmmaker would fear to tread. He then seeks out the law enforcement officials in each city. Their response is as varied as the culture where the “writing” takes place. In South America, a policeman takes the word of taggers who tell him that they have official permission. Fine with him, as he has real criminals to chase. The scariest person in the whole film is the anti graffiti vigilante, whose neighborhood is graffiti free.

Perhaps the greatest revelation is a tagger named Blek Le Rat who has been stenciling his art all over Paris since 1981, and whose trademark symbol is a spray painted rat. If this guy isn’t Banksy, then he has a great case for identity theft.

Whatever your take is on graffiti, you are likely to pick up a few fun facts that you didn’t know. Reiss is a very capable filmmaker with a curator’s eye and a generous vision.”

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