Tag Archives: Channel 4

GRAFFITI WARS: Because refusing to grow up will teach ‘authority’ some kind of ill-defined lesson

A polished up copy of King Robbo's famous tag

C4’S Street Summer has thrown out some fairly engaging content, if only in tried and tested formats, which provide a nice counterpart to the backwards looking programming favoured by Auntie and the Other Channel of late. One programme that particularly caught my attention was Sunday’s Graffiti Wars– an hour long interview-doc about tagger King Robbo and his childish feud with the fabled Banksy. [In the absence of doing any actual research, I’m going to assume that all the information contained therein is factually accurate and impartial. Or pretend that I am assuming as much. I’m also not going to bother roasting Banksy- it’s been done over and again.]

Both men take great pains to conceal their identities- in order to avoid prosecution for their profligate and ostentatious criminality and to perpetuate the myth of some kind of urban heroism. Like Batman or something. But with spray cans instead of an unassuagable desire for justice. Robo- who must be well into his forties- spends(t) most of his time working out how to plaster his trademark in hard to reach places. Legendary in the underground- figuratively and literally- for plastering his squiggle all over Tube trains throughout the eighties, he resents Banksy’s cult→mainstream appeal and mushrooming commercial success. He feels that stencilled pictures are artistically and politically inferior to the timeless art of writing your name on things- the accepted gold standard way of fucking the system and raging against the machine.

A “seminal piece” of his, wittily placed on a canal underpass beneath the London Transport Police HQ, which had been left untouched by city clean-up crews since 1985, was half obliterated by Banksy and incorporated into a new work by the Bristol spritzer.

Banky's piece incorporating King Robbo's old tag

This followed the low key rumbling of a newspaper flame war between the two and resulted in full-scale street conflagration. KR had ‘retired’ from his life as an eloquent and demonstrative political activist on account of his children needing a father. A grown man who runs around with his hood up and a scarf over his face, slapping people who haven’t heard of him, being the kind of role model children are desperately in need of, judging by recent events. Banksy’s aesthetic affront (tantamount to child murder apparently) was enough to bring our Bob out of retirement and back onto our streets with Teams Robbo and Banksy taking every opportunity to sting each other and escalate a tit-for-tat campaign of defacing each other’s work.

What with his being neither famous, nor apparently gainfully employed, our Bob had plenty of time to stew over the dispute, taking any chance he could engineer to snipe at his more successful rival and ‘modify’ Banksy’s works. Because at forty-five your priority in life should be getting revenge on some bloke who painted a picture over the name that you painted on a public wall twenty five years ago. Suggestion: Try using the expression ‘street cred’, unheard by relevant ears since 1991, to point out to your opponent how much cooler you are than him. Failing that, you could get your mum to tell his mum that he hasn’t being playing fair and it’s your turn.

Incidentally the GraffitiArtists™ (men who tag and write their names on things- as opposed to StreetArtists®: self-dubbed artists who paint on streets and buildings) so outraged by Banksy’s imposition in assimilating KR’s famous tag, are the ones who so besmirched this ‘priceless’ work of British urban art that it was barely recognisable by the time Banksy did his thing. But that’s okay, cos they’re graffitos.

King Robbo's famous tag under layers of graffiti

Heaven forfend graffiti should be overlaid with art. It’s worth noting that the film opens with Robbo himself painting out someone else’s tag.

Banksy had it down with this quote:

“If you want things to last you shouldn’t paint them under a bridge on the canal.”

Truesay.

According to the programme, shortly after his first exhibition as a legitimate if highly derivative artist, King Robbo was set upon in the street and left in a coma. It’s considered poor form to kick a man when he’s down, but I considered the programme itself worthy of response. If he comes round, hopefully he’ll reassess his priorities and stop griping over such a minor act. Maybe. You’ve got to hope it was random street violence and not one of Banksy’s sycophants fans who did this, because as far as Robbo took it- that is well beyond a joke or even childishness.

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The Academy of E4

There is inarguably a solid set of casting principles at work behind the scenes of E4’s flagship programming. Skins is steadily showcasing quality young talent year after year. Nicholas Hoult, The Name in Gen 1 is now in Hollywood working with Colin Firth and notaries, Mitch Hewer filled out and took a star turn in Brittania High and even mediocre buffoon Dev Patel has become an international household name. Kaya Scodelario, luminous in Gen 1, though a little misused in Gen 2, is named as a star of the future on numerous lists (as was Robert Sheehan, more on him later). Amy Ffion-Edwards (Sketch) of course is slowly building up a very solid CV as a character actress. Much of the most recent generation are yet to establish their post-Skins careers, but if we never hear from the oft-dubbed ‘luminous’ Lily Loveless or those junior acting heavyweights the Prescotts again, I shall be writing to whoever’s calling himself Prime Minister to demand an explanation. The effervescent Jack O’Connell of course already had the makings of a long and promising career even before the E4 gig, making his omission from the recent This Is England small screen outing even more inexplicable.

They’ll all be appearing in the upcoming Skins feature [:s –Sx] and have other projects in production which I’ll be looking out for. With an Inbetweeners film also in production and a Misfits flick quite likely, it seems 4 are really trying to put the boot into the BBC by not only owning the yoof demographic, but locking it in a Teflon box.

Misfits in particular is like a who’s who of the soon-to-be-great actors of our generation. When we’re middle aged there will be nostalgia shows talking about how this was where it all started and Sir Robert and Dame Lauren will laugh and say ‘Who would have thought?’ [I did!]

In the last couple of years mop headed Robert Sheehan has turned in a trio of nicely nuanced, if tonally similar, performances in the above, Coming Up’s Dip and Red Riding respectively (with Andrew Garfield no less). Already recognised as one of Ireland’s leading lights, he is yet to turn in a truly standout lead performance, but I feel there’s something of the Cillian Murphy about him. Castmate Lauren Socha received an independent BAFTA nod this year for her supporting role in Samantha Morton’s care system drama, yet again from the house of 4.

Also rapidly ascending, the Welsh-speaking, all-singing, probably dancing Iwan Rheon, already a stage star after Spring Awakening with Charlotte Wakefield off Holby City (roles taken on in the US by Lea Michelle and that uber-generic Jonathan Groff guy from Glee. Did that connection influence the decision to cast Rheon?) He too gave his time and talents to the Coming Up strand with I Don’t Care and made an amusingly deprecating cameo as the object of Simon Amstell’s affections on Grandma’s House over on the Beeb. [More on GH to come]

Michael and Lauren SochaThis Is England was heavyweight and cinematic British drama, which will be getting the Silver Lining treatment one day, but was most notable for me for the ‘a-ha moment’ when I fianlly twigged why Harvey was so familiar. (Because he’s a male clone of real-life sister Lauren Socha. Listen to them talk with your eyes closed… see?) With past classics like Sugar Rush (featuring guest appearances from half the future alumni of Waterloo Road bizarrely) cementing the careers of Olivia Hallinan and Lenora Crichlow (no one mention Material Girl) and of course new Spiderman Andrew Garfield, the 4 stable has a history of teen/youth programming filled with the cream of the British and Irish crop, but it feels like E4 is trailblazing at the moment, whatever Stuart Lee might think of it.


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