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I'd been wanting to see this movie since it came out -- a documentary about Thierry, a guy who documented a bunch of street artists, like Banksy and Shepard Fairey. It sounded like it was part cool footage of late night street stencilling hijinks, and part tale of quirky ass characters. And to a large degree, that was true. But i have been feeling troubled about some of the ways the movie was framed, especially from the perspective of Banksy and some of the other artists who worked with Thierry.

There's some potential spoiler, although it's a documentary and not super plot twist. But it's not totally spoiler proof either, depending the level of clean slate you prefer going into a movie, so you decide if you want to keep reading.

Anyway, so i definitely agreed with the general perspective of the film was that the main character, Thierry probably had some sort of mental illness in a significant way. I also agree that his final endeavor was an unpleasant mess and that he kind of worked a situation that was less that interesting and without all that much integrity. Also, he did seem like he acted like a jerk who wouldn't listen to reason there at the end. I'm not arguing with any of those things. Nor do i think that the fact that he may have been mentally ill gives him a pass on any of those things.

However, when Banksy says, "at that moment i realized he was not a filmaker at all but just this mentally ill person with a camera," and subsequently distances himself from this guy to a disturbing degree, I think he really glosses over some key points. I began to wonder if Thierry kind of became a foil for these street art guys to deflect their own fear of becoming sell outs. Thierry followed these guys for years and years and was the total background camera guy who did absolutely whatever these guys wanted and, no doubt, amassed crazy amazing footage which really offered them something. He remained trustworthy and reliable (never mind never ratting on people in a tight situation) for an impressive tenure. He didn't have stars in his eyes up until the very end, only a compulsion to be there in those moments. And there wasn't a lot of analysis done by the film in terms of all the complicated factors which went into Mr. Brainwash. I understand that a lot of the street artists were even more pissed off at Thierry than was Banksy, but i think there are some convenient oversights going on about the pressures and interplays of power that may have contributed to the monster that was created with Thierry's Mr. Brainwash.

I'm skeptical about the fact that these artists become all bitter and dismissive when Thierry pulls off this ridiculously lucrative show. He becomes this sell out with substance-less work; but there are a lot of unanswered questions about how Banksy and Shepard Fairey managed themselves financially, and what they did with their wealth once they did hit it big. It's hard to take their indignance that seriously. "he never evolved as an artist". Dude, he followed ya'll around and took all this wild footage for years and years and years. He was the perfect accomplice, he made art WITH you people. But some how, his contributions were never acknowledged as a valid component of what was happening. The art world is set up as "either you are a superstar or you aren't", and then we get to label people as crazy for buying into the extremes of the meglomania which is, ultimately, kind of inherent in that world.

When Banksy realized that Thierry had no video editing skill, his response was appalling to me. He kind of brushed it off and tried to distract Thierry by encouraging him to make his own street art so that he could get his hands on the footage and make his own documentary. And then he was off in the background not really able to do damage control when his "make art" assignment went awry. Yes, of course, Thierry holds the responsibility of how far he went with that directive. But, really, i'm seeing a lot of ineptitude in how Banksy presented his dealing with Thierry. First of all, he wrote the guy off and made him out as a fraud because he wasn't a "real" videographer. Would it have been possible to level with him? To say, hey, what's going on? He wasn't exactly a fraud -- he was taking amazing footage and he was interacting with the art process in all kinds of ways Banksy and Fairey admitted were of benefit. Why could they not have collaborated with him to do something useful with the footage and given him artist credit for capturing all that stuff? (Or did it just make a better film when Thierry was exploited as the crazy fucked up character?) I don't think he was a fraud, i think he accepted and kind of lied about the assignment because the niche that fit him well was not a role that was legitimized. And, apparently, nobody ever offered to come over and look at tapes with him, find out if he needed help, or look into what was actually going on in the head of this guy.

And that's what really struck me, in the end, about this movie: Banksy's and Fairey's ineptitude in terms of recognizing the issues and doing damage control with this guy. How many years were these relationships evolving? Really, were these artists so self absorbed that they never found out enough about Thierry to notice there were things that maybe needed to be addressed? And once they did get a whiff of the depth of his altered perceptions, did they really not have the resources or capacity to try and approach a sensible and compassionate solution? Did Banksy feel chumped because he hadn't managed to figure out the limitations of Thierry's video skills after all this time? Did that embarrassment over his own oversight prevent him from making clear decisions that might have helped ground out the situation? Is it just because he, like most people, knew nothing about setting useful limits with someone with the kinds of delusions Thierry seemed to be sporting? Or maybe he was just too busy being an up and coming superstar.

One who apparently is extra indignant and judgmental towards those trying to get their own piece of the superstar pie.

I still like Banksy's work, and i think he brings up interesting points about those fine lines surrounding integrity, substance, iconography, what have you. But, in this movie he brandishes, in a really flip way, a blind attitude which never fails to piss me off in a global way. It bothers me that Banksy's ineptitude will never be the thing called into question. That he had the resources and mental facilities to work towards an effective resolution which may have been therapeutic for our friend Thierry will never be percieved as the issue. We see that as irrelevant, because it's never any one else's problem; once it comes out that you are a little bit crazy, it's your fault you end up on whatever chopping block you end up on. Of if you pull off some mad but dubious success story, i hope you're prepared to get trashed by those who found their success in less obviously mentally ill ways.

I wanted a movie about the quirky guy who existed in some marginal corner of the street art scene. I wanted him to be respected, even in his moments of grandiosity. And i really felt like this movie was a huge tease in that arena. It starts off as though it's featuring this really endearing weirdo, but then takes a nasty twist in which he is completely undermined and written off as a character we are supposed to wish we had never met. Kind of below the belt, if you ask me.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 20th, 2011 04:08 pm (UTC)
What do you think of the theory that the whole movie is a Banksy "prank" and that Mr. Brainwash is an actor and that the whole thing engineered by Banksy to poke fun of the art market: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/14/movies/14banksy.html?_r=1&ref=arts

At first I was like, "No way!" But the thought just keeps lingering.

If that is what's really going on here, I think it frames some of your points in a different light, but some not.
Feb. 20th, 2011 06:00 pm (UTC)
yeah, i saw some references to that theory, but they seemed pretty well debunked in the places i'd seen them. reading the article you linked to, i'm reconsidering.

I'm trying to think how i would reframe my points if it WAS a hoax. i mean, i suppose one can reproduce bad Mental health stigma stuff as a sort of a statement, but i'm not getting that at all from this movie. In some ways, it would deepen my irritation were it a hoax. It's one thing to be inept in the face of a person's mental illness; it's entirely different thing to construct a character that you are planning to use as the fall as a mentally ill person. Cheap and easy in the worst possible way. (because we all know there are good ways to be cheap and easy! ;D).

On the other hand, i suppose it does open up different possible readings of the sell out issue -- could be more playful and possibly even a little bit more self critical than otherwise.

I'll think a little more on that one!
Feb. 22nd, 2011 09:11 pm (UTC)
We just watched this a little while ago, and it definitely left me with very mixed feelings about it.

"One who apparently is extra indignant and judgmental towards those trying to get their own piece of the superstar pie" kind of sums up the feeling it left me with...one of jealousy of a sort on the parts of Banksy and Foley.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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