Since my last few posts have been about academic and professional interests, I thought I would post a movie review today. PJ and I watched James Bolton’s The Graffiti Artist (2004) over the weekend. The movie’s webpage has a link to trailers and images from the film, if you want to check them out.

The Graffiti Artist The movie is about a kid named Nick, played by Ruben Bansie-Snellman (pictured here), who is a homeless graffiti artist in Portland, Oregon. In the larger sense, the movie traces the effects of the city’s efforts to cut down on such graffiti by arresting the artists and charging them with a felony. Nick is arrested early in the film and decides to skip town in order to avoid the fine and community service. He goes to Seattle, where he runs into Jesse, played by Pepper Fajans, another artist who’s from a middle class family. Where Nick has made a life for himself by stealing food and sleeping in alleys, Jesse pays for everything he wants and has his own small apartment. Nick believes in graffiti art for graffiti art’s sake; Jesse sells pictures of his art to magazines.

Despite these differences, the two boys become friends. Their friendship is tested, however, when it becomes physically intimate and the lines between friendship and romance begin to break down.

I really like how quiet this film is. There’s a kind of emotional intimacy cultivated between the characters and the audience that I found very effective. In part, this sense of quiet is literal — the score doesn’t overwhelm the film and is often quite muted and there is often little or no dialogue in the film. Indeed, it is several minutes into the film before Nick speaks his first lines. I thought this worked really well.

I also thought that the two lead actors, both of whom are just beginning their careers, were excellent. Perhaps because of their inexperience, both actors had a kind of naturalness in their performances that seemed appropriate for the film.

I also like that the film doesn’t use its leads as eye candy. I could imagine this film trying to capitalize on (what I take to be) the popular genre of twink skater porn, but fortunately it doesn’t. The intimacy we feel especially with Nick, I think, actually resists any such eroticization (or maybe I’m just getting too old to even imagine him as an erotic object!). Instead, we see how difficult his life is and how much finding Jesse means to him, how Jesse could “save” him from the streets if he chooses to do so.

Finally, this film really works to maintain a sense of realism. Rather than going for big, emotional senses or unbelievable epiphanies, it simply shows us these two boys’ developing friendship and its consequences when this friendship becomes “complicated” — I don’t want to give away what happens, so I’ll leave it at that.

I like this movie much more than I thought I would. It’s a quiet, realistic portrayal of this character’s needs and desires. I highly recommend it.