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A caper so cheeky, unlikely and laced with art-world subversion one is tempted to wonder if the prank-loving victim actually staged the whole thing, Ian Roderick Gray and Dylan Harvey’s The Banksy Job offers street-art provocateur Banksy as, for once, the butt of someone else’s prank. Lively throughout and riffing hard on Exit Through the Gift Shop, the celebrated 2010 film about the artist, this doc appeals to the earlier one’s audience without feeling too much like a coattail-rider. It won’t be the sensation Exit was, but should fare well in a niche theatrical release.
A certain “is this a put-on?” factor is guaranteed by the doc’s protagonist, a man so colorful you’re sure he’s a veteran British character actor you simply don’t know yet. And he is, after a fashion: Andy Link, who now calls himself AK-47, was among other things (football hooligan, acid-house promoter) a porn performer before deciding to call himself an artist.
We meet him via a kind of dream-reenactment sequence, in which we see an imagined world to match the flamboyant terms in which Link described the “art-terrorist network” he claimed to run: Dozens of subordinates guard him, wearing hazmat jumpsuits and carrying machine guns; he sits regally in a bunker full of trendy street art. Before long, the film will pretend to show us Banksy himself, his face hidden by a hoodie, as he comments on the action.
All this amusing artifice aside, the story itself appears to be true. Link became annoyed with the artist in 2003, when he refused to sign a print Link bought at one of Banksy’s earliest hipster-attracting exhibitions. (Both signed and unsigned copies were being sold; cheapskate Link tried to upgrade his unsigned one for free.)
Not long after, Banksy wowed London by sneaking a massive sculpture, The Drinker (a crude riff on Rodin’s Thinker) into a heavily watched public plaza without anyone noticing the installation. Inspired, and motivated by his grudge, Link decided to steal it and hold it for ransom.
The plotting and execution of this crime is bumblingly funny, but less entertaining than the surprising developments that follow, which include Link being deemed the work’s legal owner by the cops (it was abandoned property, and the anonymity-craving artist wasn’t going to come forth to claim it) and a back-and-forth with Banksy’s representatives about whether it would be returned.
When his initial plans fail to bear fruit (let’s not spoil more surprises), the thwarted publicity-hog goes on a years-long quest to regain the upper hand. A handful of art establishment figures who’ve crossed paths with him appear here to shed light on this Yorkshire loudmouth’s endless need to “take the piss” when it comes to celebrated British artists. But whatever his motivations and intellectual qualifications, all his comic grandstanding winds up raising some serious issues about the legitimacy of contested works of art and some of the more specious underpinnings of the art market. Despite assertions in the film that Banksy lost his sense of humor when dealing with AK-47, it’s hard not to suspect he’d silently appreciate much of what we see here.
Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight)
Production company: Ipso Facto
Directors: Ian Roderick Gray, Dylan Harvey
Producers: Christine Alderson, Alex Hurle
Executive producers: David Adair, Hamish Jenkinson, Thomas Atherton, James Edward Marks
Director of photography: Anthony Dias
Editor: Anton Short
Sales: Will Machin, Metro International Entertainment
Not rated, 79 minutes
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