Monday, June 6, 2016

The Nasty Terrible T-Kid 170: Julius Cavero (2016)

I’d long had a theory that all graffiti was done by twelve-year-old girls. Because, honestly, who likes to write in big bubble letters? That’s right: twelve-year-old girls. But apparently some grown men also like big bubble letters. The Nasty Terrible T-Kid 170: Julius Cavero is documentary film following one such grown man, Julius Cavero. I knew very little about graffiti art before watching this film. And actually, I hesitate to call “art” something that mars or damages someone else’s property. That being said, I’ve seen some beautiful, vibrant paintings on the sides of buildings, paintings which somehow made an ugly section of city look friendlier, happier.

As the film opens, Julius in voice over, tries to distinguish the artists from those who are just looking for attention, the difference between art and simple tagging. The movie basically stays with him and his perspective. There is quite a bit of pseudo-philosophical musings on his part. He says things like: “The bottom line is with the past there is no future. Remember that. You have to have a past to have a future.” Did he just contradict himself there? Well, it’s clear this isn’t the brightest guy around. There is also a whole lot of bragging. “I’ll always be relevant,” he tells us. And he says, “We took this to a whole nother level.” By the way, everyone, “nother” is not a word. The word you’re looking for is “other.” Remember that.

The filmmaker does ask him why he chose spray paint as his method of self-expression, and he tells the story of being young and seeing two kids spray painting a train. And that moment had a strong impact on him. To the director’s credit, she also asks him, “What do you think about expressing yourself on other people’s property?” He tells her: “I never personally, like, spray painted on somebody’s car or I spray painted on somebody’s house. I did tag my name on mailboxes, trucks, anything commercial.” He says he only spray painted on public property “because I am the public.”

He does talk about joining a gang, and about leaving it. It’s a shame it took him getting shot to leave. And he tells us where the name T-Kid 170 comes from. And when he’s not bragging, he does have a few interesting things to say. Like about getting legitimate jobs. But this documentary is a bit messy, and it’s difficult to know just when certain things occurred. And a lot of shots just aren’t properly identified. For example, there is a shot of him with Brian Grazer, but no explanation of how this meeting came about, or when, or where. Plus, there is a lot of poor-quality old video. And for such a short film (it’s only 49 minutes), there is some pointless stuff, like several moments of him trying to pronounce “Champs-Élysées” while he’s in France.

There are brief snippets of interviews with other graffiti artists, but this isn’t any kind of in-depth documentary on the subject of graffiti. No other perspectives are really presented. For example, we don’t hear from the people who own the property that’s been vandalized. We don’t hear from the police. I thought it might also be interesting to hear from the guys whose job it is to clean up graffiti. And I wish the people who had hired Julius Cavero for legitimate jobs had been interviewed. This documentary is essentially a puff piece. At one point Julius actually says, “We was doing masterworks of art on subway cars.”  Wow. 

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