I sat down today to watch James Bolton’s “The Graffiti Artist” having no idea what to expect except that I had read mixed reviews. As a reviewer myself, I am very distrustful of what others say until I decide myself so I cleared my mind and sat back and waited for the movie to suck me in.
Set in an urban landscape, Nick, and finds himself a young post-modern boy is our hero. His agenda is to paint the walls of downtown Seattle and Portland. The walls represent capitalistic oppression to him as well as places that are just waiting to be exploited and to show his anger with the status quo. His bywords of “rupture the system’ are his calling card and his life as a “tagger” seems to be his only desire. He worked alone until he met Jesse, another young tagger. The murals that they collaborate on seem to be the products of their kindred spirits. However, what they assume about each other is soon challenged and because of uncompromising political, ethical and emotional ideas, their relationship soon dissolves.
We go deep into the mind of a tagger ad examine the sub-culture of graffiti. Nick has exiled himself from society and belongs nowhere. He wanders within thoughts of ethical, professional, sexual and moral conflicts. He feels constantly confronted ad his response is through direct experience—graffiti. His desire to survive ad his struggle to do so in a way that challenges the conventions of the society in which he lives is what the film is all about.
There is not a great deal of dialogue in the film and it is not really necessary anyway. The beauty and surrealism of the story and the background music by Kid Loco causes the spoken word to be secondary in a film like this. Nick or “Rupture” as he tags himself manages to get in trouble with the law and moves from Portland to Seattle where he meets Jesse who tags himself “Flip”. The two begin to tag together and develop a relationship and move in to live together. They become sexually intimate in one of the most sensuous scenes, albeit understated, ever filmed. Jesse becomes quite uncomfortable with the sexual feelings and goes back to Portland and poor Nick is left behind, alone. But the relationship plays only a small part in the film—it s more important to concentrate on what a fine artist Nick is and to what limits he will go to show it.
The movie is almost like a dream that takes the viewer into the life of a graffiti artist.
There is a little of Nick in all of us and we see this as the movie asks questions that are valid to all—the kinds of questions that should be asked more often. We get a look at a society as anonymous and see the need of individual expression; Nick represents both our hopes and our fears. He does what everyone wants and he does what he loves to do, compromising nothing in the process but he pays a very dear price for it. He lets us see that one who wants a self-determined life can indeed have one and he refuses to adapt to common constraints of society. He, therefore, faces the coldness of that society strongly and fearfully. The movie is not so much the story of a teenager but is more the story of social problems.
Ruben Bansie-Snellman is Nick, the teenager who lives a solitary life and commits himself to tagging under the name of “Rupture”. He is a man against the world and his portrayal is a thing of beauty. He owns the movie and his magnetism helps him to create a character that is simple in his complexities. Snellman is Nick ad he ropes us in on his first appearance on the screen.
This is a beautiful and personal movie that has gone unnoticed. It is in no way mainstream cinema as it deals with urban art. It is not an easy movie to watch but you will feel rewarded when you see it. It is a gem and many of us will be able to relate to Nick—for that alone, it is worth a view.