Chris Moukarbel’s Banksy Does New York is an HBO documentary that focuses on the public’s response to the street graffiti artist known as Banksy.
Banksy intended for his collection to be discovered in desolated locations, deliberately, somewhere one had never ventured before. Not saying where these locations where, part of the enjoyment and thrill was finding the pieces before they were destroyed or taggers had “spot joked” it. This countdown attracted many people, not just typical from the art scene, but the news, people who stole his art, and then, the fans who pronounced his name as “Ban–sky”.
Banksy Does New York crams in all these different groups of people, not to mention a countdown of the work itself. At first it’s deliberately confusing. The start is the end, and it’s hard to know what’s going on until this is replayed later. It also doesn’t help that Moukarbel uses hand held camera work, which is quite disorientating. Eventually though, you get used to it and feel more involved in the hunt for Banksy’s pieces. The other style you need to contend with is its mash up of different media. It feels like your watching Banksy Does New York through You Tube and Instagram. Perhaps, like Banksy, Moukarbel subversively critiques and mocks the culture we belong to, but in hindsight it is overdone.
After the awesome, is-this-real, Exit Through the Gift Shop, the Banksy-directed doco released in 2010, do we need another documentary on him? Obviously Banksy Does New York is a transient piece that captures a certain moment in NYC and does only that, but in terms of the brilliant, funny and cringe worthy moments that you got from Exit Through the Gift Shop, Banksy Does New York simply doesn’t have the same charm, nor insight into street art. You also got to know more about the anonymous artist himself; we still didn’t find out his real name or what he looks likes, but it tackled precisely what he’s about and left the audience to make up their own minds.
Unfortunately, this documentary is a bit one-dimensional. Moukarbel’s chosen subjects were flat, ultimately dull and annoying personas that made it hard to be a fan. His dog-walker fans, the one’s who call him “Ban-sky”, ruined any appreciation. Then there’s the sleazy art dealer wanting to do business with Banksy and all you can see is $$$ in his eyes. Or the police caught on camera, who are too un-cool to know who Banksy is or respect him. But, surprisingly, the lad (Bernardo Veles) who stole the Banksy Sphinx sculpture in Queens – you would assume would be presented as the worst kind of offender – is represented in a sympathetic way. Perhaps this is because Veles is from a poorer background and is going to use the money he’ll make from Banksy to buy his mother a home. Moukarbel projects Veles as perhaps more palatable than the sleazy art dealer, his fans and or the police.
By now we know that Banksy jokes, challenges and critiques society. Banksy Does New York doesn’t tell us anything new, yet, as a documentary focusing on the public’s reactions, you do get to see plenty of Banksy’s work, which is pretty awesome. If you can stomach unlikable subjects and overdone aesthetics, this documentary is waiting.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10