Director Jon Reiss and producer Tracy Wares take us on a world tour of graffiti in "Bomb It". The film is more supportive of graffiti art than against it, but it does interview individuals who make it their mission to rid neighborhoods of graffiti as well as graffiti artists on 4 continents. There is an undercurrent that questions who should decide what we look at in public spaces, a provocative question but not really the focus of the film. "Bomb It" covers a lot of ground in the history and scope of graffiti art, but to good effect, as we are able to see that graffiti artists are not all alike. Graffiti has evolved over time, and its purpose is different in different cultures and sub-cultures.
"Bomb It" starts by interviewing Cornbread, a Philadelphian whose campaign to tag everything with his moniker in 1967 might make him the first modern graffiti artist. The film avoids the who-did-what-first debate but follows the progression from simple tagging to more elaborate lettering that led graffiti's transformation from an underclass counter-culture movement into one that encompasses a broader artistic movement. Graffiti artists from New York in the 1970s-1980s talk about their exploits before the city began to aggressively clean up graffiti on public property. Other cities whose artists are featured are: Paris, France; Amsterdam, Netherlands; London, UK; Berlin, Germany; Barcelona, Spain; Capetown, South Africa; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Tokyo, Japan; and Los Angeles, USA.
I've always thought of graffiti as a means of frustrated, energetic, but mostly irresponsible youth lashing out at what they perceive as the status quo. Now I've learned that graffiti art has different significance in different cultures. In South Africa, graffiti was a tool for political change. In Los Angeles, it has been part of the Chicano movement and has taken on the trapping of a lifestyle in some quarters. In some cultures, the emphasis is more on putting artwork in public spaces than on counter-culture. Not surprisingly, these artists have a less adversarial relationship with communities and the law.
The fact is that graffiti and vandalism do have a profound effect on the rate of more serious crimes. And many of the artists interviewed come across as extremely self-important people who inflict their spleen on others, because their lives are not as they would like. On the other hand, one cannot deny that graffiti is sometimes an improvement over drab, decaying edifices, or that the artists are talented, or that some of graffiti's opponents are politically naïve philistines. "Bomb It" provides an introduction to graffiti and its controversies by showing us the art, the ideas, and the differences of opinion.
The DVD (Docurama 2008): There are 3 featurettes and a feature commentary. In "Behind the Scenes" (14 min), director Jon Reiss talks about the genesis of the project, filming in different nations, assembling the film, and some themes. "Extended Time Lapse Sequences" (15 min) are 3 sequences, 5 minutes each in England, Brazil, and Japan, where we can watch the artwork being created in accelerated time. There are also "Extended Interviews" (26 min). The audio commentary by director Jon Reiss and producer Tracy Wares is constant and informative. They talk about what they did and did not include in the film, their intentions, and more details on who and what we are seeing.