Gilbey on Film: rebel? Banksy doesn't know the meaning of the word

The graffiti artist's new film is more PR than politics.

This is a week to consider absent friends. Some are absent after goofing around in class -- that would be Nicolas Chartier, one of the producers of The Hurt Locker, who was barred from attending the Oscars ceremony after circulating emails badmouthing rival nominees.

Others are absent through no fault of their own -- such as Jafar Panahi, the great Iranian director who has moved freely between appealing whimsy (The White Balloon), barely suppressed outrage (The Circle) and gruelling realism (Crimson Gold, which is screening at this month's Human Rights Watch film festival). His last film, Offside, about the attempts of female football supporters to attend matches from which they are banned, even showed traces of Dario Fo-like satire.

Panahi was arrested last week in Iran, along with his wife and daughter, in an attempt to subdue advocates of the opposition Green movement. This is not the first time the director's movements have been inhibited. US immigration once kept him shackled in a cell at JFK Airport after he refused to be photographed and fingerprinted; he was also arrested last summer in Iran, and had his passport revoked. (Panahi was refused permission to participate in a forum on Iranian cinema at this year's Berlin Film Festival.)

Then there are those whose apparent absence is really only a form of self-promotion. The graffiti artist Banksy appears in his own film, Exit Through the Gift Shop, in which he delivers his self-consciously deadpan, would-be enigmatic musings in an electronically filtered voice that might be an attempt to make him into the street-punk Stephen Hawking.

Watching Banksy wallowing in ostentatious anonymity, I can't have been the only audience member to be reminded of Peter Cook as Greta Garbo, driving through crowded streets in a convertible and barking into a loudhailer: "I vant to be alone."

Like most people who cultivate their own disappearance, from teenage runaways to washed-up Reggie Perrins, Banksy wants most of all to be seen, loved and craved. Despite expending most of his energy preserving his anonymity, his worst nightmare would be to go unseen.

Time for a rebrand

By removing himself from view, Banksy hopes to stoke our interest in him. Even his harshest critic couldn't claim he has failed. But if his goal was to become "like a robe pontifical,/Ne'er seen but wonder'd at", then where does he go from here?

Some have seen Exit Through the Gift Shop as another piece in the Banksy puzzle, adding nothing to our sum of knowledge about him, but it looks to me more like a bid for survival, a rebranding, a cry from the sidelines of "Yoo-hoo! I'm still here! You haven't forgotten me, have you?"

The film purports to tell the story of Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman living in Los Angeles who documents the street art movement and becomes a facilitator for Banksy. After botching the film he was supposed to be making about street art, Guetta branches out into art himself, staging a hopelessly naive and overambitious exhibition.

I wouldn't claim to know who Guetta is, or if he even exists. (My closest contact with street art is the Neighbourhood Watch sticker in my living-room window. And even that was left there by the previous tenant.) And the whiff of mockumentary around the film actively discourages our serious engagement; Guetta's resemblance to the comedian Rob Schneider makes me particularly sceptical.

But authenticity isn't the issue. What bothers me about Exit Through the Gift Shop is that it requires nothing of the audience except complicity. There's already something dopey about the largely unquestioning, middle-class deification of Banksy, and the film plays up to that.

At no point does it interrogate Banksy's work or motives, and the artist's own self-satisfied pronouncements explicitly deter us from doing so: this is a film that upholds Banksy's integrity by discrediting Guetta. It sits in judgement, and invites us to do the same.

Sure, the Frenchman comes across as a buffoon and a bandwagon-chaser, but the viewers who laugh obsequiously at Banksy's sly put-downs of him shouldn't believe themselves to be anything but tiny cogs in the Banksy PR machine.

As I watched the film, my thoughts kept drifting back to Panahi, and the way in which his work persuades us to interrogate our place in society. It's a far cry from Exit Through the Gift Shop, which leaves us only with a choice between being spoilsports or saps.

Ryan Gilbey blogs for Cultural Capital every Tuesday. He is also the New Statesman's film critic.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

Via David Moloney of the Great News For All Readers blog
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The dark, forgotten world of British girls’ comics is about to be resurrected

The UK’s most surreal and innovative comic strips have long been gathering dust. As a publisher acquires the archives, they could be heading for a renaissance.

Comics now exert a massive influence on popular culture, yet those that do are almost exclusively drawn from two American publishers, and mostly exist within one genre: Superheroics.

Comics, though, are a medium, not a genre, and, in acquiring this prominence, American superhero comics have obscured almost everything else done in the medium both in the US and elsewhere.

British comics, from publishers like DC Thomson, IPC and Fleetway, rarely involved superheroes, and were traditionally anthologies, with multiple episodic serials running at all times. They were divided by their publishers into three categories, humour comics aimed at younger children (The Beano and The Dandy remain well-known, although only the former still exists), comics aimed at boys (largely war comics, such as Battle, which also incorporated sports stories and science fiction), and titles specifically targeted at older girls.


All scans courtesy of David Moloney of the Great News For All Readers blog​.

The girls’ titles, particularly, have largely disappeared from common memory, acknowledged only by a handful of enthusiasts. This is odd, as at their peak, they routinely massively outsold the boys’ titles they shared shelf space with.

Bunty (1958-2001) is one of the few girls’ titles to retain any cache, but it had many stablemates and competitors. Some were devoted to straightforward romantic series, and strips with “improving moral messages” (eg. the girl who gets her dream job after helping a blind man out rather than be on time to her interview; it turns out to have been a test).

They also ran features that reflected then contemporary assumptions as to what all girls would/must like (Bunty often had a “cut-out wardrobe” clothes section as its back page), but there was also more variety in tone and content than you might expect.

The Seventies saw the creation of Tammy (1971-84), Jinty (1974-81) and Misty (1978-80). Tammy’s stories were often bleak, and many were variations on the darkest aspects of Cinderella (“Alison All Alone” saw a contemporary girl locked up by step-parents for reasons that are never really articulated).

Jinty ran some relatively normal contemporary school stories, eschewing a jolly hockey sticks angle and pushing something closer to kitchen sink drama (eg. “Pam of Pond Hill”, a Grange Hill-like series set in a comprehensive). But, as time went on, it became darker and odder, running series like John Wagner’s “The Blind Ballerina” (which has been described by acclaimed comic book writer Alan Moore as “cynical and possibly actually evil”).

The lack of credits in most comics in this era meant the audience would’ve been largely unaware that their favourite stories, with their almost exclusively female casts were, like “The Blind Ballerina”, largely written and drawn by men.

Misty creator Pat Mills’ recollection is that while the publishers of the time had many women on staff, most of them saw magazines for older girls and women as the more worthwhile publications than comics.


Women who left a significant mark on these male-dominated titles include Jinty editor Mavis Miller, writer Benita Brown (later an author of historical family sagas set in the northeast which could rival Catherine Cookson when it came to being borrowed from public libraries), and Shirley Bellwood whose consistently magnificent covers for Misty – reputedly largely portraits of her own younger self – were responsible for establishing its aesthetic.

Pat Mills intended that Misty would do to, and for, girls’ comics what his own 2000AD had done with boys’ comics. Whereas 2000AD was, and indeed is, the ultimate science fiction anthology book, Misty would be – as its logo of a bat silhouetted against the moon suggested – unapologetically a horror comic.

Typical Misty serials include “The Loving Cup” (a cursed goblet vessel causes women who drink from it to be possessed by Lucrezia Borgia), and “Winner Loses All” (in which a girl sells her soul to Satan to both save her alcoholic father and become a champion showjumper – the horse is cursed, of course).

Then there’s “Screaming Point”, about a hangman who dabbles in diabolic resurrection of his own clients, or Misty’s longest running single story, “Paint it Black”, in which cursed paints cause a girl quite a lot of trouble. More sci-fi than supernatural – but still within the horror remit – was “The Sentinels”, a serial about two tower blocks in contemporary Britain, which simultaneously exist in the real 1970s and in an alternative timeline where the country has been occupied by the Nazis since the 1940s.

If you’re now wondering why these amazing-sounding stories are no longer available to read, here’s the good news: you may very soon be able to. In August, Rebellion, the owners of 2000AD, bought a vast archive of old classic British comics from Egmont UK (the Fleetway and IPC Youth Group archives), which includes all the above material and more.

Rebellion, initially a computer games company known for the Sniper Elite series, bought 2000AD from Fleetway in, well, 2000AD. Fleetway was also the original publisher of Misty, and so on, although they’ve passed through other hands since.

This is oddly reminiscent of the “hatch, match and despatch” process, where a publisher would “merge” a cancelled comic into another they owned, incorporating the most popular characters and strips into the new composite title. This was the process whereby Tammy absorbed both Misty and Jinty as their sales declined. Mills has suggested that, had he had more direct control, Misty would, like 2000AD, still be running today.

Rebellion has already published a single slim volume of two Misty serials (containing the very odd, and very Seventies, reincarnation drama “Moonchild”, and the genuinely horrifying “The Four Faces of Eve”) and more are planned, but may depend on sales of this volume. If I could take this opportunity to call for a public vote in favour of reprinting Tammy’s startling “Karen, the Loneliest Girl in the World” here, I’d be grateful.


Reprints though, should really only be the beginning. With Rebellion having access to the Egmont archive and its intellectual property, could we see films or television series of some of Misty or Jinty’s best series?

With their female leads, strong emotional content, science fiction and horror aspects and political and social angles, it’s hard to deny that much of the content of Misty or a Jinty has a similar appeal to the kind YA books that become billion-dollar film franchises these days, in the exact same way American boys’ comics do.

It is startlingly easy to imagine opening an issue of Misty and finding a forgotten 1970s strip version of Twilight, or seeing The Hunger Games on the centre pages of Jinty. The main difference would be that they’d both be set in Slough.

With a bit of luck, some of the most peculiar, imaginative and challenging work in British comics could soon be raised from the dead in a new century and in a different form entirely, and then go on to dominate the world. Which, rather appropriately, sounds like something out of Misty.