Banksy Most Wanted review – adulatory greatest-hits profile of the graffiti kingpin | Documentary films


Here is a watchable, if slaveringly adulatory documentary profile of the yet-to-be-conclusively-identified artist, whose increasingly pricey work has spawned its own mini-industry of blokes with angle grinders chopping stencils off walls and doors almost before the paint is dry.

Directed by Seamus Haley and Aurélia Rouvier, this film covers most of the bases: beginning with the 2018 shredding of his Girl With Balloon painting shortly after it had sold at auction, and working back through earlier greatest hits such as the Dismaland theme park, the Walled Off hotel in Bethlehem in the West Bank, and the Mobile Lovers gift to a Bristol youth club. It also very much bends the knee, allowing statements such as “Banksy is the Picasso of the 21st century” to pass through unchallenged; others may not subscribe entirely to this point of view.

In lieu of much biographical information, quite a lot of the film is given over to entertaining speculation on Banksy’s identity: Massive Attack’s Robert del Naja, Tank Girl/Gorillaz illustrator Jamie Hewlett, and someone called Robin Gunningham, are all put forward as plausible candidates. (At one point a serial killer investigator gets involved; the vagueness of his conclusions doesn’t bode well for the state of the US justice system.)

The backstroking and raptures do get a bit much, but the counterweight is provided by arguably the most interesting talking head: art dealer Robin Barton, who unembarrassedly talks about how he (legally) removed a number of artworks with the help of said angle-grinders – but met his Waterloo when wall-ownership issues scuppered the “preservation” of a stencil cut out from the side of an amusement arcade in Folkestone. (Though I am not quite sure how one commentator can stand up the idea that the picture was owned “emotionally” by Folkestone’s local population.)

Well, even if you don’t sign up to Banksy’s genius, it’s fair to say he’s harnessed social media like no other artist, using it to authenticate his work, preserve his anonymity, and document his stunts – all of which has helped to inflate the monetary and cultural value of his output. And if Banksy wants to be the Keyser Soze of contemporary art, that’s his affair. It certainly sells tickets.

Banksy Most Wanted is released on 22 March on digital platforms.

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