Reiss is careful to include opinions from all sides of the art vs. vandalism debate, interviewing subway officials and police investigators who seem to think graffiti is the first step towards the downfall of Western civilization. He talks to Old School vets who acknowledge the early connections between graffiti and gangs, and tracks these shadowy characters as they go about their “missions” in the dead of night, ever watchful for the long arm of the law. He even talks to cultural anthropologists who point out that humans have been tagging in one form or another since prehistoric times, when man left his mark on cave walls and the insides of pyramids. Best of all, he tracks graffiti’s expansion across the globe– from Paris to Palestine, from Barcelona to Berlin, from Cape Town to Tokyo and everywhere in between– proving hip-hop’s strength as a truly global movement.
The hyperactive editing style can be a bit jarring, bopping from city to city and continent to continent with a kinetic energy that can be as intense as the music that inspired this style of art. When the fast-talking bombers start rapping in various languages, trying to keep up with the subtitles and the constant barrage of killer visual images can get a bit hectic. But that feels like a minor complaint for a film that digs so deeply into this crucial element in hip-hop history, and a vibrant art form that has influenced everything from graphic design and comic books to film. Though conservatives may still see graffiti as the destruction of property, Reiss’ vivid film makes it seem like—if you’ll pardon the throwback phrase—“the bomb.”