“What do you mean, I have to introduce the film?”
Here we are, in my front room. DocoBanksy, calmly sipping on a cup of my finest espresso. Next to him, Lady Dem, his soulmate, muse and sounding board. She looks at me sympathetically, but she knows the score as well as I. What Doco wants, Doco gets. It turns out Doco doesn’t want to introduce his own damn film at the opening night of the Portobello Film Festival. Which can only mean one thing.
“Think about it, Twinkle. I can’t do it, can I? International art-seditionists don’t put themselves out in the open, do they? I have enemies. People are watching me. I have to stay in the shadows, otherwise I lose my sense of mystery, and then where would I be?”
He’s right, of course, godsdammit, but even so. The prospect of standing up and introducing a film in front of a packed cinema fills me with a cloying, syrupy dread that blurs my vision and clog my sinuses. I’m a self-diagnosed introvert, fer crying out loud. Public speaking is not in the remit. It’s as far away from the remit as I can possibly hide it.
“Aw, stop making cow eyes at me, Twinkle. You must have known this was comin’. Why did you think I got you to write the speech?”
“I… I thought that was for you. I mean, you said you’d be showing up at the screening…”
“And I will be. I’ll be right behind you. Hood up, shades on. Don’t you see, Twinkle? It’ll be perfect. The spokesman and the silent artist. The perfect duo.”
“You’ll look like The Pet Shop Boys,” Lady Dem murmurs, just loud enough for me to hear, and for once, as we both burst into laughter, we had the upper hand on the damn’d elusive DocoBanksy.
In the DocoMobile (which presents as a standard people carrier on the outside; inside, Tardis-like, it’s more like a deluxe apartment on wheels) I perform the necessary surgery on the speech. He might have thought it was perfect as was, but if I was going to deliver it, a lot of the subtleties and double meanings I’d woven into the text needed to go. Doco, as ever, drove and wound up the tunage. The Streets and The Sex Pistols. The right combination of punk and urban attitude. We hit West London to the roar of Steve Jones’ guitar blasting out the ’76 demo to Anarchy in the UK. Quite possibly a portent.
Lunch, and a meet with a co-conspirator. EMP, shutterbug, artist, the coolest of cats. She’s 6’2″, half Japanese, half Finnish, smarter than me and several decimal points prettier. She takes tea while we scarf noodles, smiling at our latest find; a decent write-up in that day’s Metro, the London free paper that goes out to half a million people every morning. They’re calling us “the hottest free ticket in town”.
“I knew we should have charged,” Doco mutters around a mouthful of Massuman curry. I let that one slide, and nervously cut an adverb from the speech. Then put it back in a sentence later.
Mr. Brainwash, Banksy copyist and self-proclaimed street artist, has a free show on up the road, so we check it out. It’s … not very good. Imagine all the cliches you could level at street art in general and Banksy and Shepherd Fairey in particular, and you’ve got an idea of what Brainwash does. Not that he does very much. He outsources the actual work to a team of artisans, who put together his half-baked concepts and mashups. There’s not a spark of originality in the whole exhibition.
Bizarrely, the man himself is in attendance. Doco strides up to say hello. He’s blocked by security. Apparently, Brainwash has an urgent appointment that simply can’t wait. He scurries off soon after, ringed by guards. Doco still manages to get through, and presses a couple of stickers into his hand. I didn’t hear what Doco said to Brainwash, but the smaller man was certainly in a hurry to leave.
Not that we’re concerned. The news had rolled in over lunch; a real street artist was going to be at the screening. None other than French legend Blek Le Rat. Doco is suddenly very excited. The word is well and truly out. And even better, outside the venue we found an Invader, one of Doco’s other obsessions. He does not resist to opportunity to pose, while Lady Dem, EMP and I snicker. He doesn’t care. DocoBanksy is in his happy place.
The Pop-Up Cinema on Acklam Road, W11 is underneath the Westway, a sheltered spot (from the rain at least, more on that later) that houses a bar, loos and a hundred-seat cinema. A funky mix of seats, everything from wooden benches to overstuffed picturehouse chairs in the front row. Lady Dem snags them. Base camp established. Doco and I prowl. He plants stickers, while I check the screen and projector. It’s a good, big projection space–no tablecloth strung up on a couple of sticks. The projector has a good throw, giving solid, vibrant pics. This pleases me. Doco and I are vibrating with nerves as the cinema starts to fill. Lady Dem sends us to the pub to take a 15 minute decompress and final briefing.
Outside the cinema, we have a syncronicitious moment. There’s a Banksy right outside the venue, and wouldn’t you know it, someone’s slapped a DocoBanksy sticker on it. “That’s fate,” Doco says, clearly pleased. “Fate wants us to succeed.”
Synchronicity continues to knock us about. The first film on the bill is Big Society, a nasty little tale by X&HTeam-mate Nick Scott on the nature of taking the law into one’s own hands. The grey area where community service turns into vigilante action. It’s a sharply written and acted piece that starts the show off right. In fact, the whole programme is strong and nicely balanced. Stand-outs for me include John Henry Owen’s bleakly funny tale of a seaside ventriloquist on the skids, Glick’s Last Tour, and Joey Skye’s The Spirit Of Portobello, an exploration of the people and places that make the area so special.
It’s amazing I can remember any of it, frankly, because I’m out of my skin with frantic worry at this point, trying to find any excuse to wriggle out of my responsibility. A sudden case of leprosy. Maybe I could lose my voice or have a sudden nervous case of terminal hiccups.
Doco senses the fog of panic smoking off me. He reaches over and pats my shoulder. “You’ll be fine, Twinkle.” Oh. Well, that’s all right then.
And then it’s time, and I have no more excuses. My game face snaps into place over the blubbering mess I’ve been wearing up to now, and we stride up in front of the screen. No mike. I have to bellow. No idea if anyone hears me or not, and I don’t really care. I just keep it slow and loud, and oh bugger me, I get a laugh in a place where I put a joke.
This is what I say:
We are not Banksy. Sorry to disappoint you. We have neither met, talked to, played pool or had a drink with Banksy. It would be great if we could, but that seems unlikely given the circumstances.
We did not make the film you’re about to see in order to enter into the trite and redundant conversation about Banksy’s secret identity. Which is a shame, as in the course of our research, we came across a number of really entertaining rumours. They are not in the film, as we have no way of proving them.
So, for example, we can neither confirm or deny that Banksy is a decommissioned military computer program that became self-aware following the Cold War, and paints using a swarm of remote drone quadcopters.
We can neither confirm or deny that Banksy is a gang of street kids working under the pay and direction of the shadowy figure known only as King Robbo.
We can neither confirm or deny that Banksy is in the audience tonight.
We are in the position to confirm that the film you are about to see is approximately 58 minutes in duration, will be projected in colour at 25 frames per second, and contains language that some viewers may find distressing.
Enjoy the film.
Long live King Robbo.
It’s over in 45 seconds, and I stride offstage in front of Doco, who has been an impenetrable mystery in shades and hood. A guy in the second row gives me the thumbs up as I march past. At the back, Doco clinks his bottle of San Miguel against mine. “Nice work, Twinkle,” he says. I take a very long hard pull at my beer, and let out a deep shuddering breath. Holy Marconi, I did it.
As for the film–I think it went well. We had a sound issue halfway through, where the volume dropped by 75%. Could be us, could be the projection. I’m not laying blame. It was sorted quickly enough. The audience seemed to enjoy it. They were a bit confused by the lack of credits, but when two men have put together the whole thing, how much of a roller do you think you’re going to get?
But the temperature was dropping fast. The Pop-Up is effectively outdoors, and a breeze was kicking up. Staff started handing out blankets for the last film, Ricky Grover’s Big Fat Gypsy Gangster, but by then I was cold and brainfried. I made my excuses, left Doco gibbering at Blek Le Rat (seeing the prime art-seditionist as a tongue-tied fanboy is a whole new experience), made my excuses and lit out for the territories. Sorry, Ricky. The film looks great, but I was past ready for bed.
As the train rocketed back towards home, I mused on the extraordinary day. All the work, obsession, freakouts, tantrums and worry had paid off. The film is out there now. It’s out of our hands, and people will see things in it that we never could have imagined. We met a couple of people at the show that are very interested in helping us take it to a much wider audience. This is not the end of the journey for Docobanksy and I. We’ve barely started. Lock down your aerial.