Directed by Aaron Rose and Joshua Leonard
Screened at on 15th March 2011
This documentary film, originally released in March 2008, focuses on
the lives of a group of artists from their humble beginnings in the street
and underground scenes in America to their emergence as respected artists
in their own right. Originally seen as ‘outcasts’ of society,
these people reflect on how they made their impact on the art world with
little or no formal training.
I was originally very excited to see this film; I’ve often questioned
what the definition of art is and who is responsible for this decision.
Is it the artists themselves (Duchamp’s fountain anyone)? Does it
have to be shown in a gallery (kudos to Banksy)? The story of how a group
of people from the underground scene managed to challenge preconceived
ideas within the art world and make such an impact is inspirational, it
seemed to have a sort of ‘Everyman’ quality to it, the idea
that great artists can come from anywhere and we shouldn’t be dictated
to as to what makes great art.
Regrettably as the film progressed I became disappointed. Many of the
artists came across as somewhat jaded and disaffected by what they’d
achieved and I myself became bored as everyone seemed to stress the point
of how they were turned out from society, had no place else to go and
were considered ‘Freaks’. It seemed nothing more than pretentious
angst and I was really hoping they’d have something new to say besides
the whole “Boohoo daddy didn’t love me” premise.
There is one moment in this film, in particular, where a young man is
telling a story from his past in a children’s play area. We learn
how one of his friends got into trouble with a local drug dealer and his
head was discovered in the very spot where there are children playing,
as if this wasn’t horrific enough he then tells the children who
are playing nearby this story. It wasn’t until the credits that
I realised that this was the man who co wrote Kids
(1995), at least it explained his dark disposition.
Although the artists still collaborate on exhibitions together they each
have independent careers. Some stay true to their roots and their love
of what they do naturally shines through, however, some have fallen foul
of commercialism and sold out to become graphic designers and advertisers.
I wouldn’t really have a problem with this except the impression
I got from the beginning of the film is that these artists were taking
a stand against ‘the man’ and now it would appear that a few
are working for him.
As with anything that starts out as a bold statement on culture and society,
the message eventually gets sucked up and twisted beyond recognition.
These artists managed to create their own ‘Factory’, a space
in which they could explore their artistic interests – be it graffiti,
sculpture or film making – and surrounded by like minded people
they produced a lawless art that challenged elitism. Unfortunately, what
starts out as underground doesn’t usually stay there; we see this
now with the emergence of graffiti ‘classes’, street art,
along with the artists, are being taken off the street and engulfed by
the elitist’s art world.