April 11th, 2011

“Stick ‘Em Up” Screening at River Oaks Theater

These days, some of us live through social media. We’ve created personalities for ourselves that border on the fringes of reality that we show to others through @ signs and photo albums. In person, each one of us attempts to live up to the easily accessible selves that we’ve projected on the internet, but sometimes it’s just easier to live in the shadows behind a smart phone or laptop. That’s why we relate to the artists that have taken over our street corners and abandoned buildings.

The buzz surrounding Stick ‘Em Up, a documentary about Houston guerrilla wheat paste artists, was not surprising. Street art has been a hot topic lately with Exit Through the Gift Shop sneaking into Academy Award contention and Houston struck it big (at least in internet standards) when a proposal in front of artwork by Ack! went viral. But when Stick ‘Em Up – directed by Alex Luster and produced by Tony Reyes – had to add a second screening and then a third to its debut, my lack of surprise was replaced by being impressed.

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We’ve been caught up in the craze that is the Houston street art scene for a while, just as many others have. Luster took his passion for the art form even further, amassing over 50 hours of footage during a three year stretch. For many of people clued into the scene, there was a question as to when, exactly the film would be cut and complete. Luckily for us, after enlisting the help of Tony Reyes, the duo turned the clips into a 90 minute finished product avoiding Thierry Guetta comparisons.

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Stick ‘Em Up offers the general public a glimpse into the minds behind some of the artwork that has become a staple of our morning commutes, afternoon jogs and Sunday drives. With a majority of the film focusing on the creation, application and reception of work by Give Up, Stick ‘Em Up delves briefly into the worlds of Cutthroat, Dual, 2:12 and Eyesore while also featuring shots of Vote Right, Garro and Shreddi. As each artist made their debut on the screen, attendants cheered for their champions. That’s exactly what they are to the film as well: Champions.

Undeniably, the film leans toward the artistic agendas of the men and women behind the silk screen. Public officials, law enforcement and the crews our tax dollars fund are given their due cut into the film, but really they’re just a device, a foil to keep the story moving forward. They are there to tell us, the audience, that which we already know: Street art, in unsanctioned areas, is illegal.

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A majority of the audience members feel like street artists should be left alone. This notion is pure comedy. From the mouth of the focal piece of the film, Give Up, the idea of street art being legal is preposterous. Yet, in the age when everyone gets to have their say, a self-righteous audience took over the Q&A and the focus on the filmmakers was lost. Public officials who attended the film, including Councilwoman Sue Lovell and Sheriff Adrian Garcia, should have been given kudos for attending the film, not maligned for being cogs in the machine that make street art a temporary art form. Much like Give Up not wanting to practice his art if he were allowed to do it, I don’t think I would be as big a fan or avid hunter of work all around town if I knew that it would be permanent.

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The permanence of the film is yet to be seen. Stick ‘Em Up is a movie aimed at those that are queued into the Houston street art movement. It’s not a “fan film” by any stretch of the imagination, but it does require some base of knowledge before walking into it.

There were some genuine “movie” moments in the documentary. Alejandro Arboleda’s popped collar and  unintentionally comedic moments as the featured street art collector, interviewed for his knowledge on the subject. He comes off as a zealous, overly-verbose fanboy instead of an authority. But the “Give Up/Never Give Up” moments toward the end of the film, provided by the most unassuming of fans, Karen Calvert, really made Stick ‘Em Up for me.

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Most specifically, Stick ‘Em Up is a movie about an art form, something all too easily forgotten between the comic stylings of Cutthroat and the society loathing of Give Up. Every artistic movement is subversive in some way. Street art isn’t new, arguably having been in existence since the first caveman carved a buffalo into a cave wall. As most art is political in theory, street art happens to be political in application as well. And though that stirs a debate in some, I’d much rather sit back and appreciate it for what it is, no matter how temporary it’s run on the street corner call box lasts.

For fans, both casual and avid, Stick ‘Em Up is the behind the scenes look that you’ve wanted. There is something invaluable about hearing the motivations and inspirations from the artists themselves, and that’s just what Alex Luster and Tony Reyes have given the Houston street art proponents.

Most photos by Imelda taken at the River Oaks screening’s mini-gallery.

— Paul

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