By Marco DiAddezio
Graffiti has, at different points in history, been used as a means of self-promotion, as a method of advertising, and even as a tool to publicize various social and political messages. Graffiti art now appears in museums and galleries around the world.
UC Santa Cruz alumni Benjamin Morgan and Brant Smith have co-written a movie called "Quality of Life" which takes a look at the graffiti sub-culture of the San Francisco Mission District. While their movie is not the first recent release to center around graffiti, Smith is confident that it is the most authentic.
"The authenticity [of the movie] directly came from the connection and rare access that we had to the Mission District graffiti culture," Smith said.
This, in addition to the influence of Brian Burnam, one of the lead actors and a graffiti artist himself, lent the film an unmistakable commitment and faithfulness to the real world of graffiti. This is a fact that is in the forefront of much of the acclaim that the film’s recent run through international festivals has garnered.
"Street bombing graffiti (the style displayed in the film) is done quickly, often in the middle of the night, but can make a statement, can make something powerful and compelling," Morgan said.
These low-budget techniques deplete the scenes of any sense of preparation. They are "fresh, spontaneous, and authentic," according to Smith. But "Quality of Life" is not simply an examination of the underground world of graffiti.
"Graffiti issues play into heavy dynamics in our society right now," Smith said.
By using graffiti as a backdrop and foregrounding the relationship of the two lead characters, Mikey and Curtis, the Santa Cruz filmmakers are able to contextualize and complicate issues such as property rights, government spending, and economic divides. Morgan emphasizes the outrageous amount of money that is allocated solely to the eradication of graffiti from public property. However, the goal of this movie is not to propagandize using scary figures and bulleted slogans; it is to "present an issue to a thinking audience."
Smith believes that a desire to force ideology on audiences is a common pitfall of independent filmmakers. Morgan and Smith were careful to keep their hands out of the cookie jar, making their movie with the sole intention to promote deeper thought in their audience members. They have chosen an issue and made a movie that defies easy answers and convenient summations.