The documentary format has been synonyms with street art and graffiti, since it’s popularised inception. From the hey days of Style Wars and Stations of The Elevated, to the more recent Exit Through The Gift Shop, these intertwining cultures have been welcomed and influential to screens, both large and small. But, as a self proclaimed film buff, I can’t say that there have been many that have nailed just what this whole miserable subculture is all about. As someone who doesn’t like to hold onto the past too much, I look forward to any new attempts at providing a better understanding or grasp of what the appeal this lifestyle withholds. For a culture who’s reach is worldwide and infinity filled with characters, with an equal amount of stories to share, fitting the ethos of graffiti and street art is a seemingly impossible task within the 90 minute format. Melbourne’s scene alone has a vast history of spots, writers, artists and provinces to dig through with thousands of interesting undocumented opportunities to be found. In late 2014, one such documentary, Cutback, was screened to a number of select audiences around the East Coast of Australia, attempted to put a stamp on this ongoing story. Featuring interviews and footage of artists across Melbourne, Sydney, Berlin and New York, with the intention of stitching together the global presence of art in the streets. Fast forward to November 2015 and the documentary is finally getting a short term screening via SBS’s On Demand service throughout the month, giving local fans a chance to finally see what the fuss was about some 12 months earlier. There are many reasons that hold back the release of a film, mostly revolving around money, distribution rights, where to show it and even a lack of interest. Unfortunately, the later would seem to be the case after watching Cutback. This confusing 65 minute documentary never seems quite sure what it wants to be and lacks any real depth in terms of narrative and a number of its participants.
Brooklyn based Dmote, with one of the few note worthy sections in this 65 minute snoozer.
With production beginning in 2011 through to 2014, Cutback has been a long term project for director Rachel Bentley and one that could have been given a bit more time and care. The content is muddled, but it’s, forgivingly, well shot and while the (stereotypical selection of beats/drum and bass/hip hop based) music to accompany it, is used effectively. The editing is to the point and doesn’t leave sections hanging for too long, particularly with some of it’s questionable subjects. The team behind this project clearly know what they’re doing on the production side of things, so much to the point, that it’s a shame so much of their time has been thinned out on the 65 minutes produced on this project. Focusing their time across 4 continents, Cutback is a clip by clip non-sequential analysis’ and theory on the selective impact of street art and graffiti across the globe. And it’s in this format, the documentary fails to truly grasp what it wants to say or be. The opening itself discusses the legalities and culture of street art and graffiti in Melbourne to only be followed up with the beginnings of the (minimally present) story arc of artist ELK. Switching it’s time across the globe and discussing a varied amount of conflicting and, (at times) selectively educated views, really puts this entire project in no category to attach itself to. Without even presenting itself as an artform, these cultures come from different cities, different histories, different cultures, which simply splinter the further you dig your way through it. And digging further means researching until your eyes, fingers and throat are sore from whatever books, conversations or stories that have been shared, while combing over them obsessively before presenting them yourself, something the director didn’t do enough of.
Isn’t it funny how much people credit institutions for doing so little?
Having worked on this project for 4 years, the selection of interviewed participants is overwhelmingly questionable. If you can’t get credible writers and artists to comment on the current state of the subject: professors, curators and art buyers, aren’t the solution. As they seemingly to take away from the real stories that need to be told here, which is the ones from the artists that participate themselves. Unsurprisingly, these characters have a habit of appearing whenever a camera asking for anybodies 2 cents are around, making their opinions repetitively tired and, at this point, somewhat redundant. An unnecessarily angry (self proclaimed former “vandal”), Fletcher Anderson, shouldn’t have been the one to discuss the antithesis of graffiti, simply because he never has and doesn’t do it. The story of the Everfresh Studio/Crew is shot some 8 years too late, with minimal input from the involving participants. ELK himself seems torn between being defined as a street artist or not. And the inclusion of two art investors, who only see the value in artists being put through the gallery system first, are just a handful examples of the wasted opportunities found throughout Cutback. Proving that street art is being appreciated under a controlled domesticated microscope, a place where, director Rachel Bentley, obviously feels comfortable with it. But graffiti and street art has never been about comfort, it’s annoyingly repetitive, time/life constraining and for the most part, comes with no financial or even emotional reward. It’s not about those who wait for an opportunity, it’s for those take it. If you can’t get the likes of a Break, Greco, Stabs, Shida, Scram or the thousands (possibly millions) of other dedicated participants around the world, the first ones to put there hand up aren’t (always) the suitable substitute. There are some shining moments from the likes of Dmote, ZeroSix (who’s story could literally make an entire full length feature), Perso and the aforementioned ELK, but there simply isn’t enough to warrant this a credible document.
Perso proving that you don’t need councils, business owners or galleries to practise and display your art
When it comes to story of street art and graffiti, Cutback is barely skimming the surface for what has already been told before, adding nothing new to this amazing culture like it should intend to, trying to do too much with so little. Information and history is key in this close nit world and the Cutback team simply didn’t do enough to get new and credible sources to make this feature worth seeing. It may have been better presented as an online collection of stories spread out over some time, but it falls flat as a feature. If you’re looking something better to sink your teeth into, spend some time with The Crack and Shine Series by TopSafe, Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe, RASH, along with the previously mentioned Exit Through The Gift Shop and the almighty Style Wars.
Just why is this thing called Cutback anyway? Aren’t you ment to be polishing this thing until it’s done right?