Better Out Than In: “Banksy Does New York” DVD to be released on August 25

By on August 19, 2015

On October 1, 2013, the elusive and celebrated British-born political activist and street artist known as Banksy launched a self-proclaimed month-long residency (“Better Out Than In”) in New York City, posting one unique exhibit a day during the entire month, always in a new and unannounced location, sparking a 31-day scavenger hunt both online and on the streets.

On August 25, Kino Lorber will be releasing the DVD of Banksy Does New York, an unique documentary film, directed/assembled by director Chris Moukarbel and compiled from user-generated film footage, including Youtube videos, tweets and Instagram photos, giving everyone who didn’t get the chance to see the 80-minute documentary when it aired on HBO the opportunity to see what Banksy’s art is all about in a chronological one-Banksy-piece-a-day fashion, whether the end result ended up being a public mural, a piece of stenciled street graffito, or an elaborate diaroma.

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Not only that, you get to see what happens once the horde of scavenger hunters began turning up at the sight of the art itself, which ended up getting photographed, painted over (one in a matter of hours), defaced by asshole taggers, covered in plexiglass, cut out, removed, or, in one case, even stolen, while the cameras roll.

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Mostly, however, people seemed to want to preserve Banksy’s art once it showed up — no official complaints were reported to the police, and although the NYPD denied they were hunting the artist, as the press claimed, one day of the residency was canceled due to police intervention — and most property owners praised the art when they found it and some took measures to protect it, making themselves and their responses part of the work itself. As they were always done in public piece and outdoor spaces without the property owner’s consent, it’s actually a little remarkable that Banksy wasn’t shot or stabbed while putting up the art in the middle of the night.

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Banksy’s work touched on such wide-ranging subjects, such as fast-food wages, animal cruelty in the meat industry, civilian casualties in Iraq, and the hypocrisy of the modern art world.  As the footage in the film was made on mostly unsophisticated sources — like cell phones and second-hand television broadcasts — the documentary has varying degrees of image quality, but it only contribute to the project’s fragmentary, collage-like feel.

Here’s a few of our personal favorites:

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A stenciled beaver in East New York, positioned next to an overturned lamppost as if it had seemingly caused a street sign to fall (this one’s a favorite not so much for the art, but for the aftermath: a group of men took advantage of this and threatened to deface the beaver, charging money for people to take photographs of it) (Oct. 10).

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Another fave: Banksy’s stall at an art fair in Central Park, where he offers up original spray-painted and stenciled canvases, for $60 apiece, but he forgot to tell his publicist; the BBC estimated they could have sold upwards of $32,000 each, but just seven Banksy paintings were sold for a total of $420 (Oct. 13).

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We also liked this rather simple stencil in Coney Island of a robot spray-painting a UPC barcode (Oct. 28).

But, our absolute favorite, however, was the “Sirens of the Lambs” military-style cargo truck filled with squealing, stuffed animatronic livestock that was driven through Manhattan’s meatpacking district in elaborate political display questioning the “casual cruelty” of the meat industry.

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Moukabbel documents how Banksy’s art is not only received by the often-clueless public who stumble upon his work, then shoot tweets and camera-phone videos and, in the process, reveal their own level of knowledge about art and Banksy’s in particular.

In the film we see people who have probably never spent any substantial amount of time in an art gallery or museum, and some who probably have, like New York’s then-mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who apparently isn’t a Banksy fan, stating that Banksy was actually defacing public and private property.

What the director usually avoids is the typical talking head documentary format (there are no sit-down interviews with Banksy, whose identity remains notoriously a well-kept secret).

The title of the month-long residency, “Better Out Than In,” is a reference to a quote by impressionist Paul Cézanne: “All pictures painted inside, in the studio, will never be as good as those done outside.”

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The DVD edition of Banksy Does New York comes with a 2-minute trailer as the only “extra.”

If you missed our earlier post about Banksy in Gaza, have a look here.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.