Review: Saving Banksy
It’s a wonder that after over twenty-five years as an active street artist, Banksy’s identity has yet to be revealed, and it’s a wonder if it ever will. That was something that ran through my mind at least a couple of times while watching Colin M. Day’s Saving Banksy, a tangential, breezy documentary film that has less to do with Banksy and more to do with the impact that his work has had on the rest of us non-anonymous people. Namely: what do we do with Banksy’s art once it’s revealed to the public?
Of course, many of the people featured in the film have an array of opinions on this, and even on the legitimacy of street art itself. This seventy-ish minute documentary sets its sights squarely on showcasing every single viewpoint on Banksy’s art, making an antagonist out of no one, other than a villainous art dealer who fumbles over his words as he tries to justify his clearly sleazy agenda. Many street artists are interviewed and sympathized with, as well as property owners who unwittingly provide a canvas to one of the biggest art movements of the century. Banksy’s intentions, though, are seldom explicit, save for whatever can be interpreted by the art itself, and his secrecy proves to be more frustrating and paradoxical, directly affecting the subjects of the film despite having zero involvement or direct interaction with them. In accordance with many city’s public graffiti ordinances (namely San Francisco in 2010), something has to happen with a particularly difficult to reach mural on the side of a hundred-plus-year-old building. The city wants it removed, the building owner wants it out of their life, and one kind-hearted art collector, Brian Greif (who acts as Saving Banksy’s executive producer) wants to preserve and protect the piece at all costs.
What was astounding to me, and perhaps hindsight is 20/20, is how stubborn and ignorant so-called progressive art collectors were towards Greif’s generous offer of a free Banksy art piece in exchange for preservation and display, but even that proved to be extremely difficult and less simple than it sounds. The question quickly turns from “What do we do with Banksy’s art once it’s revealed to the public?” to “What does Banksy want us to do with his art once it’s been revealed to the public, and does he even really care?”
If Banksy doesn’t want his art in a museum, curators don’t want it. If Banksy doesn’t want his art sold at auction for millions of dollars, he’s doing very little to stop it. There’s so much hubbub around him, his art, and the tons of middle men. One young street artist puts it best when he simply says “no comment” about Banksy, his art, and any of the controversies surrounding it.
My resolve, and I think this is Saving Banksy’s as well, is that it’s for someone else to decide what history will call the street art movement Banksy has spearheaded, because he clearly isn’t interested in declaring anything about himself. Saving Banksy displays its evidence plainly and convincingly, like a courtroom jury made up of late-night Netflix documentary junkies and street art aficionados. It’s a film as fun and adventurous as its subject and a worthy chapter in the Banksy mythology, and if there’s anything street art fans do best, it’s observe.