Having trotted the globe to gauge the history and scale of rave culture in 1999's "Better Living through Circuitry," John Reiss logs a whole lot more frequent-flyer miles doing the same for graffiti in "Bomb It."

Having trotted the globe to gauge the history and scale of rave culture in 1999’s “Better Living through Circuitry,” Jon Reiss logs a whole lot more frequent-flyer miles doing the same for graffiti in “Bomb It.” Entertaining, high-energy survey sprays from Brooklyn to Japan to South Africa, en route interviewing both famed artists and identity-obscured street “bombers,” as well as authorities who consider the whole subject to be simply glorified vandalism. Docu is playing scattered dates around the country, from one-night gallery shows to theatrical runs, with DVD release likely to access a lot more customers worldwide.

Though you could argue graffiti is as old as the first time somebody chipped their mark onto a cave wall, Reiss pins the birth-of-an-artform title on Cornbread, whose relentless tagging made him Philly’s “King of the Walls” beginning in the late 1960s. Similarly, Taki 183 in early- ’70s New York City, won fame the spray-paint way.

Graffiti exploded along with hip-hop culture in the ’80s, “wildstyle” practitioners risking life, limb and incarceration. Crews would compete to claim the most subway cars and other public spaces tagged, though increasingly severe crackdowns by police and cleanup crews eventually curbed the trend.

The stands taken against poverty, authority, gentrification or simple conformity represented by some graffiti become more prominent as helmer Reiss ventures abroad. In South Africa, it commenced as a silent protest during the brutal later years of Apartheid; in Brazil, as antifascist activism during the ’60s and ’70s. Elsewhere, particularly in Europe and Japan, it has lifted some highly skilled artists into the cultural mainstream.

Reiss touches on myriad related topics, from the appropriation of graffiti imagery in corporate advertising to the addictive thrill experienced by those who still go at it guerrilla-style. Then there are the many foes who see it as visual pollution, a gateway crime, or simply harmful to their property values. On the flip-side, others view this emphasis on petty vandalism as one way of distracting public attention from the deeper issues of economic, race and class disenfranchisement.

Beyond the often striking graffiti glimpsed, the docu is full to the brim with global music tracks, amusing film clips (from “Superfly” to cult horror “They Live”), and diverse original animation segs. Lensing varies, as some footage was by necessity shot surreptitiously; editing is dynamic.

Bomb It

Production

A Flying Cow production in association with Antidote Films. Produced by Tracy Wares, Jon Reiss, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Kate Christensen. Co-producers, Lisa Garibay, Arnel San Pedro. Directed by Jon Reiss.

Crew

Camera (color, DV), Tracy Wares; editors, Alex Marquez, Jessica Hernandez; additional editing, Richard Shacter; music, Disco D, Mathematics, Illfonics; music supervisor, David Garcia; animation, Jon Gutman, Matt Clauson, Beau DeSilva, Brian Whip, Samir Arghandiwall, James Jaculina; sound (Dolby), Reiss, Mark Kamps; assistant director, Amy Seibe. Reviewed at San Francisco Independent Film Festival, Feb. 9, 2008. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Cornbread, Taki 183, Zephyr, T-Kid 170, Pose II, Daim, Scage, Blek le Rat, Sixe, Os Gemeos, DJ Lady Tribe, Shepard Fairey, Chaz Bojorquez, Very One, Ron English, Faith 47. (English, French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish dialogue)

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more