I think most of us take graffiti for granted, but every once in awhile I'll have to stop and think about the level of skill it would have taken, to have not only paint some of the elaborate tags you see on rusting train cars and the undersides of bridges, but to have painted it quickly enough to escape should the cops come by (and I'd guess even then, anything I see in the Seattle graffiti world probably pales in comparison to the kinds of work in New York or LA). It poses the question: if these artists are so good, why paint on the sidewalk? Inside Outside tries to answer.
We meet several, apparently notable graffiti artists during Inside Outside (notable enough that they all get name-checked on the DVD front cover), including ZEVS, a masked French artist who experiments with all types of unusual graffiti, even the kind that can't be seen by the human eye; Swoon, a painter who pastes pre-designed murals onto New York City walls; KR, who sells his own brand of especially wet spray paint; and Ron English, an artist who plasters his own incendiary billboards over existing corporate billboards, not to mention several other artists and painters who get a more limited amount of screen time.
Unfortunately, it's hard to tell if directors Andreas Johnsen and Nis Boye Møller Rasmussen had particular goals in going out to shoot Inside Outside, other than to get broadly defined "insight" on what makes graffiti artists tick. ZEVS seems to be their star player, and he's easily one of the more interesting subjects in the documentary, bringing black florescent lights to hook into existing light fixtures while he paints with UV reactive paint, then putting the original florescent bulbs back in. "Voila! Invisible cloud on the police precinct," he grins after painting his signature image on a sign. It's a really intriguing moment in the movie, yet it arrives literally minutes before the movie is over, so you don't get to hear about any real motivation or history behind ZEVS's unseen, invisible graffiti.
As for the motivation behind graffiti in general, it seems mostly to be political. Not surprisingly, most of the artists here talk about fighting for freedom of speech through their work, and while some of it, like Ron English's outspoken billboards, can get a little heavy-handed or loaded in its message, English states his point clearly: "They don't know what the f--- to do with artists in this society. Obviously these aren't criminals. These are really talented people. I mean, God's giving them this talent, and then this idiot society doesn't know what to do with it." The movie tries to explore some of the anti-graffiti perspectives, by interviewing an NY police officer in charge of stopping vandalism and a guy who covers walls with advertisements, like you always see in movies, but the filmmakers again seem uninterested, unable or unaware of what questions to ask these subjects to make for a more interesting contrast.
Still, there's a lot of interesting artwork covered in the movie's short 60-minute runtime (don't let the cover fool you, the "2 hours" it lists includes both the film and the extra features). I'm sure there's a better documentary to be made about the craft of graffiti, and I know that Inside Outside isn't the first to tackle the subject, so perhaps that documentary even already exists, but the people covered by this independent project are interesting, enthusiastic hosts, which goes a long way to making it an interesting watch.
Inside Outside comes in a surprisingly dull-ish cover; you'd think with all the artists involved with this project and the style of the film they could have designed something a little more striking than this (lots of Arial and not enough interesting pictures of the graffiti in the movie). It comes in a cheap (but not cheapest) style of transparent DVD case, with some slightly more interesting pictures on the inside. There is no insert, and the disc label is black with white text (again, really?). The menu is much more interesting, preceded by a short introduction by ZEVS (0:16).
The Video and Audio
The colors on this anamorphic widescreen presentation (looks to be 1.85:1) really pop off the screen, from the yellow in ZEVS's masked getup and basic skintones to the inky blacks of night, peppered with all sorts of bright streetlights. And really, between that and the detail, which is acceptable (although whites are severely blown out), there's not much more that's really important about the picture quality from the documentary's standpoint. Still, the picture is most often completely and totally overwhelmed by mosquito noise in essentially every low-light night shot, I spotted edge enhancement from time to time, and there's more than a handful of jagged edges and flickering moire patterns throughout the movie.
Being a documentary, the primary focus in the film's Dolby Digital 2.0 audio (a mix of various languages, primarily English and French) is the dialogue, which comes through crisp and clean. Even if it wasn't, however, you'd still be able to tell that the English subtitles provided on this disc are often shortened and paraphrased. As an English speaker, I only know the English-speaking sections aren't accurate, but it certainly made me wonder about the parts subtitled from French. Admittedly, the paraphrasing isn't inaccurate in spirit, because nothing relevant is lost through the alterations, but that doesn't make it a good decision. One line of the movie was chopped off by the track I was using (there are separate tracks subtitling the non-English parts and the entire movie). Danish, French and Chinese subtitles are included and listed on the packaging, and Portuguese also appears to be included.
Os Gemeos (10:09), Nofitti (6:01), Magic (2:14), Wooster Collective (9:53), Steve Mona (6:41), Earsnot (6:47), Adams & Itso (7:14), Swoon (8:18) and Ron English (6:04) are all featured in bonus interviews in which they expound more on their artistry. On one hand, it's almost refreshing that despite another hour of footage, the documentary itself doesn't run two hours; I've often thought documentaries should make their points concisely rather than stretching itself to feature length just because it can be, but on the other hand, a lot of the footage here feels like it would have worked, focusing on the actual art being created. These video extras are all subtitled in English only. Unfortunately, there is no "play all" option, so you may find yourself getting tired of the menu music.
There are also four slideshows for ZEVS (2:10), Swoon (3:35), KR (3:50) and Ron English (8:15).
Inside Outside is an intriguing diversion that doesn't dig far enough beneath the surface to be really informative, but it does present the lives of some very interesting people. It's worth a rental, if you're in the mood for something different.
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