Nothing to Watch on Netflix: Vigilante Vigilante


This month's installment of Nothing to Watch on Netflix is about a documentary called Vigilante Vigilante: The Battle for Expression.

This movie focuses on three different "buffers" from three different parts of the country. A "buffer" is a person who takes it upon themselves to "buff" graffiti away, which is where the subtitle comes into play.

One great thing about this movie is it illuminates a subculture most people are only dimly aware of. We see street art everywhere and don't pay it a second thought. This movie tells the story of people who get up in the wee hours of the morning to paint over work they deem unsightly.

This, of course, brings up the question as to whether or not what they're doing is right, since they're also committing vandalism. In many cases, the buffing looks worse than the art itself- mostly patches of silver or gray or black paint.

The movie focuses on the directors' search for Jim Sharp, the Silver Buff, a man who's been going around buff graffiti in the Berkeley area. Intermittent to the stings they set up on their search are interviews with graffiti artists and other buffers.

One thing this movie makes clear is that there isn't one kind of buffer. Yes, all three of the people interviewed go around "cleaning up" graffiti. But each buffer exhibits a different kind of attitude toward what they do.

In New Orleans, the viewers are introduced to Fred Radtke, The Grey Ghost. Radtke is a figure that is pretty much universally hated in New Orleans, as he buffs indiscriminately. Not only did he paint over some awesome art, but he also covered street signs that artists knocked up in the post-Hurricane Katrina aftermath. Moreover, he was a huge asshole to the directors who were just trying to get an interview and refused to speak with them.

On the flip side, there's Joe Connolly from the LA area, the Graffiti Guerrilla. Connolly was more than happy to meet with the directors. Connolly is a man full of energy and excitement. He has a deep appreciation for art and is friends with many street artists. This, however, doesn't stop him from taking down their work in what he's claimed as his territory. The directors press Connolly and ask him why he feels it's necessary to go around buffing. Connolly doesn't have a reason and admits that he's just compelled to buff and he feels he's doing the community a service. 

Then there's Jim Sharp. The directors finally track him down to find that he's a quiet, straightlaced man in his late 50's/early 60's. He's quiet and polite, if not a little annoyed to be followed around by a camera crew. After several attempted interviews, the director introduces Sharp to Connolly, who gives him tips on how to be a more effective buffer. Sharp isn't as big of an asshole as Radtke, but he also isn't as congenial as Connolly. He's basically just an upright citizen who is trying to do what he thinks is right.

This movie is great not because it's particularly well-shot for a documentary, but because it presents a new world to the viewers in an interesting and dynamic way. They weave their mission of tracking down the Silver Buff with interviews with heavy hitting street artists like Shephard Fairey. The most valuable thing that I took away from this movie was a greater appreciation for graffiti and an understanding of why people "vandalize" property.

Check it out!