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So, is this a hoax?

That’s the biggest question surrounding this documentary of a Frenchman with a camera turned street artist (graffiti artist, if you want to see it that way), directed by an Englishman street artist turned movie director.  It’s fascinating stuff, really.  Even if it’s one big joke, I was completely fascinated by the film and the characters throughout.  Hell, even if the characters were lacking (which trust me, they aren’t), the art kept me in tune.

Which, by the way, is quite interesting, how the art is done.  It’s stuff everyone has seen before (either marker or spray paint, occasionally stencils and sometimes paper and plaster), but the real treat is seeing how it’s done.  Thierry Guetta (the Frenchman) spent eight years following around various street artists and filming them and their art.  His cousin Invader puts up mosaics of Space Invader characters, Shepard Fairey puts up OBEY signs with Andre the Giant’s face (he’s also responsible for this poster), and several other artists, each with their own respective signatures.

The one he wanted most though, in his continued obsession with filming street art, was Banksy (the Englishman), a well known but mysterious street artist who keeps himself anonymous, but has some of the most vocal street art in the world (note, much in the way of street art acts as a counter to mainstream art, or also acts as a criticism to various entities in the world, such as the media, culture, or politicians).  He has created some truly impressive art works as well: a forged Bank of England note with Princess Diana’s face and “Banksy of England” written on it, a reworked telephone booth with an axe in it, and a doll dressed up in prison garb (Ala Guantanamo Bay) and placed in full view of a Disney Park roller coaster ride (well, that last one was a political statement, but still).

For eight years Guetta filmed it all, but when Banksy made it big with his premiere art show (and the subsequent selling of his art), the time came for a documentary to be made about the true intent of street art.  And, Guetta, just filming for the sake of filming (his back story, explaining why he films as much as he does, is heartbreaking, but also extremely informative), doesn’t know how to make a movie.  So Banksy got the idea: he’ll film Guetta creating street art and putting together an art show.

Which, in essence, resulted in a documentary we have about Thierry Guetta, aka Mr. Brainwash.

So, is this a hoax, or something quite legit?  It could be something of both.  No one takes video of street art for eight years and does nothing with it (that said, no one takes video of anything for eight years and does nothing with it).  Thierry Guetta’s rise as Mr. Brainwash is completely overnight, going from unknown to hosting a show that had an audience of 7000 on its opening night (which almost didn’t open because of his easily distracted nature).  Banksy keeps his anonymity, even while being film and interviewed (which makes me wonder how it got to Sundance earlier this year).  He also says MBW broke all the rules, which is ironic in itself because, with street art, there are no rules.

But, everyone seems real and legit in who they are and what they represent.  There is eight years worth of footage of street artists placing their mark on the world, filmed by an overly passionate Frenchman who films practically everything.  Mr. Brainwash is a success, an overwhelming one that that.  And, well, Banksy is Banksy, who will probably forever be shrouded in mystery, which is just fine by him.

So is it a hoax?  Who knows.  It’s one of the most enjoyable ones I’ve ever watched if it is indeed one.  And if it isn’t a hoax, then you have a great story of a crazy Frenchman who defied logic and became one of the biggest street artists in the past few years.

Either way, don’t miss it.

A

The film was narrated by Rhys Ifans, who seems to be in on the joke.  There’s a five minute clip on YouTube that gives an overview of the film, and if you listen to Ifans, you can almost think he’s playing with everyone with how he’s reading for the film.

Also, MBW has a show in New York City right now, his second show, that runs through the end of May.  It’s entitled ICONS, and I might consider it.  I’d rather see a Banksy show, but I wouldn’t mind trying out a street art show in general to see what they involve.  Might prove fascinating overall.

I’m going to say this up front: I didn’t like this film.

Out of the way?  Good.

Now, that doesn’t diminish the quality of the film.  It works pretty well.  The performances are pretty good (Ben Stiller and Greta Gerwig give the best performances).  The film is competently filmed.  Everyone knows what they’re doing.  It works.

I just didn’t like it.

It took me a few days to figure out though.  Generally with movies, there’s a lead character you can either relate to or just like.  It’s the hero, per say, that you want to see succeed.  He wins at life, he gets the girl (or, well you can reverse that to be gender neutral), he’s the man.

This isn’t the typical movie.  Greenberg isn’t the hero, he’s the pest that you wish you can grind under your foot again and again.

Maybe I’m being too harsh, which I am.  I realized this after seeing this movie that this was how the movie was designed.  Maybe we’re supposed to hate Greenberg, or at least the character.  He’s fearful of generally everything and hardly ever takes blame for things he does.  One of the plot points during the film involves himself and Ivan (Rhys Ifans) and what happened with their band fifteen years prior.  Greenberg didn’t want to sign with a major label and be a sellout, but sometimes that’s the way the business works.  He doesn’t take blame though for the band breaking up (which he caused because of his refusal to sign), fifteen years after the fact.

Or take Greenberg and Florence.  Obviously there’s something going on, but every time something does, Greenberg pushes her away.  Then he acts like nothing has happened.  Florence, for her part, seems to still want to do something with him, maybe out of pity, maybe to get some stability in her life, who knows.  Or, maybe Florence just likes Greenberg and wants to be with him in spite of his flaws.  The ending is left open to that point.  (On that note, the best scenes in the movie do generally involve Florence.  Greta Gerwig plays her as a quirky twenty-something who is struggling to find a job in the world after college.  She’s just like us.  She’s easily the most relate-able character in the film.)

But I think it was Greenberg that made me not like this film.  You just can’t like him.  Maybe pity with him, but not like him, or even sympathize with him.  There came a point towards the end of the film, when there’s a party going on, in which I became completely uncomfortable with watching this film.  I started to really hate it.  It was almost like that feeling when I watched Transformers 2, but that was more of a dumb, mute shock from being assaulted with lights and sounds for two plus hours (all of it trying to take itself seriously too).  This was one of those seat squirming moments that you really wish would end, but it still drags itself along, trying to get across the point that Greenberg is this guy who’s not a good guy, or he might be, but he just has issues, but nothing we can relate to.  I didn’t like him.

I didn’t like this film.  Like I said, the film is fine for what it is, but if I was supposed to not like this film, then I suppose the mission was a success.  I suppose I’ll just slap a grade on it and move along.

B-