Saving Banksy
R1 - America - Passion River Films
Review written by and copyright: Robert Segedy (28th May 2017).
The Film

“If you are dirty, insignificant and unloved, then rats are your ultimate role model”. -- Banksy.

The question of who realistically owns “street art” is examined, and unfortunately there is no decisive answer regarding the situation; there are many wrinkles that are examined in this new documentary film such as does the art belong to the creator or the people, i.e. the intended audience, what about the person that owns the property on which the illegal act occurred; do they own the artwork in question? What about when the artwork is done by the mysterious and infamous graffiti artist known by the moniker, Banksy, who’s other works have been sold at various auctions and sold for millions of dollars? It seems that once money enters the scenario things ultimately and swiftly change. Banksy decides on a tour of the states that he is going to visit San Francisco, and that he is going to gift the citizens of the city with some of his clever handiwork, and we are shown photographs of several works before they are crudely damaged by lesser talented artists or simply painted over. You see San Francisco is very anal about graffiti, and it is considered a serious offence and that furthermore, the building’s owners are held responsible for the cleanup of said site, regardless of the possible artistic merit involved. What to do about this situation ponders executive producer and art lover Brian Greif; this artwork is not meant to endure, in fact it is endangered, and if someone doesn’t act immediately, it will simply be covered over with another coat of paint. So, with personal funds at stake, Greif decides that the best thing to do would be to preserve the artwork for generations to come, and he will donate the piece for free to an art museum. But not so fast; what about the various people’s rights involved with this situation: the artist, the building’s owner, the city itself. Foul, they cry, and since there is a lot of money to possibly be made, they are busy lining up, with palms extended, wondering how they can get a piece of the action. This is the basic crux of what is the plot of the film, "Saving Banksy".

Philosophically, the question regarding art and the issue of commerce is a tricky subject; if the artist is creating art strictly because of the potential windfall of cash involved, and there is no absolute guarantee there, is the result truly art? Hello, Jeff Koons, would you like to weigh in on this topic? What if the art in question is spray-painted graffiti on the side of a building? Street artists are a strange breed; they are like caped crusaders, working often under the cover of darkness, bringing their message to the masses, whether they want it or not, and while doing so, they are under the auspices of committing a crime. Now the crime is not a serious felony, it is relatively low on the scale of crime, but is it a victimless crime? Someone will have to cover the costs of cleaning up the crime scene, and that is usually you, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer. How do you feel about the issue now? Is it art or is it crime? What about a stenciled 6-foot rodent with a socialistic cap on its head, holding a magic marker? Is it art now or just an annoyance? Where do we draw the line? Does the irony of the image make a difference or is it that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder?

"Saving Banksy" has a plethora of such artists speak about this issue and much more, sometimes giving conflicting answers regarding personal freedom and expressionism of the individual in society. Such artists as Risk, Blek Le Rat, Doze Green, Hera, and half a dozen others are given screen time to air their opinions regarding the Banksy situation, and particularly the San Francisco conundrum, and their responses are enlightening. While watching this film several questions came to mind: what is the importance of art, who is this Banksy character, and why does he need saving, what is wrong with these museum curators, and why are they being so picky about donated artwork?

As the film progresses, we meet Stephan Keszler, an art dealer who specializes in the market of “street art” and undoubtedly does very financially thanks to several other Banksy pieces that have literally been hacked out of the wall surface where they were painted, who offers Greif an option up to $700,000 dollars. The film continues to the Art Miami festival, held in 2002, where the rat piece is displayed alongside several other absconded Banksy images, where it is viewed by thousands of art lovers. Later on the curator of San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art e-mails Greif a note telling him that they are going to do a major exhibit of street art, and asks would he like to have his rodent painting by Banksy displayed with the other artists. The irony is not noted, unfortunately. Throughout the film, we have various street artists weighing in with their opinions, but the most screen time is dedicated to British Street Artist Ben Eine, who articulately discusses what motivates him and talks frankly about his friendship with Banksy.

This is a first rate film and it gives viewers a crash course in street art and introduces the viewer to many famous street artists. The film moves along swiftly and the cinematography is first rate; an excellent soundtrack of various types of music by a number of performers.

Video

Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, this was obviously shot on digital video and the quality is very good; there are plenty of shots of artists captured in the act of creating, usually at night.

Audio

A single English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track is included, all conversations are clear and the dialogue parts are clear. The soundtrack is generally complimentary to the subject matter and doesn’t override the visuals. There are no optional subtitles.

Extras

A single extra is included, a "Behind the Scenes" featurette which runs for 16 minutes 34 seconds, goes a bit deeper into the details of how the painting was rescued and the painstaking methods that were used to undertake the task. Additional interviews with art collector Brian Greif and British street artist Ben Eine that shed a bit more light on the Banksy phenomena.

Packaging

Packaged in a standard DVD keep case.

Overall

This is a fascinating look at today’s world of street art and the participants that risk their safety, among other things, all for the sake of creativity.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: B- Overall: A-

 


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