Review: ‘Popaganda: The Art & Crimes Of Ron English’

Activist artist Ron English proves a natural documentary subject in Pedro Carvajal's "Popaganda." Pic follows English on guerrilla "culture-jamming" missions -- covering real billboard advertisements with faux ones critiquing U.S. politics, media and corporate-driven consumerism. Broadcast prospects will be better offshore.

Activist artist Ron English proves a natural documentary subject in Pedro Carvajal’s “Popaganda.” Pic follows English on guerrilla “culture-jamming” missions — covering real billboard advertisements with faux ones critiquing U.S. politics, media and corporate-driven consumerism. His ease as a radical-left spokesman and his art’s punchy immediacy make for an entertaining overview that could access fans via rep-house gigs before going to home formats. Broadcast prospects will be better offshore.

The “Robin Hood of Madison Avenue” risks neck (and jail, a frequent inconvenience he shrugs off) to illegally post eye-catching signs parodying and indicting familiar commercial pitches: A cigarette “ad” has the words “Forever Kool” next to a corpse’s toe-tagged feet; a wildly corpulent Ronald McDonald suggests one fast-food consequence. To his wife’s dismay, this free, short-lived public art often consumes more of English’s time than his avidly collected oil paintings, which use pop imagery in similar if more intricate ways. As a result, he’s been sued (unsuccessfully) for copyright infringement by everyone from Disney to the band Kiss and the Van Gogh Foundation. Tech aspects are decent.

Popaganda: The Art & Crimes Of Ron English

Production

A Harvest Moon Prods. presentation. Produced, directed by Pedro Carvajal.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Carvajal; editor, Kevin Chapados. Reviewed at San Francisco Documentary Film Festival, May 13, 2005. Running time: 77 MIN.

With

Ron English, Shepard Fairey, Cicada, ArtFux, Daniel Johnston, Slash, Mark Pauline.
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