Retro Ramblings

Reports from the dusty corners of filmland

Still from Bomb It

It’s been a while since I’ve written a review on here. I’ve been so busy with stuff lately that I’ve not really watched much, and what I have I’ve not managed to write up. My cult movie-viewing has been muted, but I did catch episodes of Hammer House of Horror and The Twilight Zone. I’ve also been watching a lot of Family Guy lately, thanks to the wonders of 3g and my new mobile.

I recently started a new job and discovered that by accident I’d been employed as an art teacher, despite having no formal art training, experience or skills. Fortunately I’ve always had an interest in art, visiting galleries, reading art books, etc., so after the initial shock (I was formally a film and media teacher) I began to be rather excited at the prospect.

During this last year I’d become aware of the work of UK-based street artist Banksy and french stencil artist Blek le Rat, and I began to get interested in street art in general. After visiting the Cans Festival a couple of months ago I decided to teach my students about street art. Whilst looking around the internet for possible resources I discovered this documentary, which has just been released on R1. It was almost too good to be true, so I ordered it straight away!

The documentary successfully attempts to show the complete history of graffitti and street art, from its beginnings in Philadelphia and New York in the 1960s, through to the global art movement it is today. The filmmakers have managed to score interviews with many different artists. I couldn’t help but wonder how they managed to find these people, considering they never used their real names, and what they do is generally illegal. Indeed, whilst on camera many of them kept their faces covered with bandanas. At times I felt like I was watching a Trevor MacDonald special on knife crime.

What was interesting was the different meanings and philosophies behind the work, and how this tended to change according to the country we were in. The artists and outlaws in New York, for example, tended to swear a lot, whilst explaining the need to tag and bomb every L-train and wall in site. It was all about getting your name out there. By contrast we also visit Sao Paulo, where the artists work there to bring colour and relief to a desperately impoverished city where families live in sewers, and South Africa where graffitti art was all about anti-apartheid and artists were imprisoned indefinitely for daring to comment on the political system. Art can be a weapon in the right hands.

The documentary this reminded me of the most was Dogtown and Z-Boys, with its mix of talking heads, archive footage and hip-hop music. Bomb It goes further though, showing how graffitti and street art is still a vibrant force today. The camera follows artists through townships, sewers, ghettos and abandoned towerblocks as they demonstrate their methods and their work. These are artists who don’t seek money or acceptance from the elitist art community. They don’t sell work for millions or have shows in galleries. They believe in art by the people, for the people, and any blank wall is seen as their chance to reclaim public space and give their artistic visions to the public for free. All you need is a carrier bag full of spray cans and someone keeping an eye out for the police.

My only minor complaint is that the DVD has no subtitles, except those used when they visit other countries, or speak to people with strong accents (including, ammusingly, someone from Tyneside). Other than that this is a highly recommended movie that deserves to get a theatrical release here in the UK.

Additional: I contacted the filmmakers and they generously supplied me with a full transcript of the film, which will mean I can show it to my deaf students after all. This only makes me like them even more!

One Response to “Bomb It - Street Art is Revolution (2008)”

  1. So Paulo melhor. Its the best city in Brazil, with lots of cool things.

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