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By Mark Bell | June 8, 2008

“Bomb It” is easily the best documentary on graffiti history and culture throughout the world that I have ever seen. Jon Reiss’s documentary covers all the necessary bases; all the proper perspectives. It would’ve been easy to use the documentary lens to follow one or two bombers (taggers, graffiti artists, vandals… use your discretion) and profile their life, easy to spend an entire film making the argument for or against graffiti as art, easy to pick one region and explore the evolution of graffiti there, but “Bomb It” does all that and more.

For every Marc Eckò, Shepard Fairey and Ron English that we’re all familiar with (and if you’re not, well… you are, you just don’t know that you are), there’s a Sixe, Zezao or Toe to talk to. For every bomber on the street spreading their name and legacy, there’s a bomber utilizing public space for political commentary. For every artist making colossal typographical statements, there’s a corporation co-opting the look to sell their wares. For every pro-graffiti advocate, there’s a vigilante anti-graffiti activist roaming the streets with a roller and paint bucket (or, in some cases, a gun).

And that’s why I enjoyed this documentary so much, because it gave me everything and let me sort through it. I love amazing, colorful murals depicting strange images on the side of buildings, and I hate the simple almost illegible scribble of a single black spray can. I love the idea of artistic freedom in public spaces, and I hate the thought of someone putting s**t on my apartment door. I’m conflicted about corporations putting so much imagery around me that I just numb it out, and conflicted about my own opinion that graffiti should be allowed just as much freedom and prevalence when, honestly, I’d rather have a say in both matters.

Personally, you’re not going to see me running from the cops anytime soon after having tagged a bus (you’d be hard-pressed to find me running at any point as it is), but I couldn’t help but step back and think about the common themes amongst early graffiti on the East Coast and the simple idea of spreading your name as much as possible anywhere you could. In a way perpetuating your own immortality (or at least that of a persona of your own creation), on a thematic level, I don’t see how there is much difference between that and those who perpetuate the internet with their web handles and aliases. I don’t necessarily see it as an artistic statement, but I do see it as a form of scribbling on the giant walls of the internet when I’ve been using the same web alias since 1995 for everything from email to bulletin boards to XBox Live.

Now, why the sudden digression? Simple, this film makes you think (or it should, lest you be numb from the neck up, in which case I don’t know how you found this review in the first place, not like I put it in circulars with Pizza Hut coupons (mental note: to expand audience, put reviews in with Pizza Hut coupons)) and that is not as easy or obvious a task as one would expect from a documentary. All the more reason to hunt the film down during its theatrical run or, after the fact, get a hold of a copy on DVD.

“Bomb It” is an education into a world that, quite frankly, most people don’t know s**t about. I know cavemen drew on walls. I didn’t know that modern graffiti can be attributed to a guy named Cornbread writing his name around Philadelphia in the late ’60s. I know there’s a lot of art in galleries right now that could just as easily be found under a highway overpass, but I didn’t necessarily understand the motivations. Maybe you’ll go into this film knowing more than I did about the subject, but I doubt you’ll walk away without having learned something new.

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