Josh Laner’s documentary detailing the struggles of Vancouver based street-artist and crack addict Ken Foster makes for tragic viewing. There’s a genuine sense of depression that lingers throughout the film, in its interviews, in the moments it simply watches Foster at work and in the actual artwork itself. It’s upsetting to see someone with undeniable talent struggle so much with themselves.
If you’re wondering if this film is enjoyable then the answer is a resounding no. No, it’s not. It’s too sad. It’s too upsetting. It’s just too much. Even moments of supposed success have a real undercurrent of darkness.
Make no mistake, this is a dark film, and it never tries to glorify its subject. Despite his fame and his obvious abilities, it’s what I would call an unflinching look at a man with serious issues, genuine problems and a desperate need for help. But what makes it so, so upsetting is that Ken Foster is a really good artist, and the artwork we get to see throughout the film just proves that.
At one point early on he is asked a question; if he could only choose one, crack or art, what would he choose, and his answer is vague. He tells us he can’t choose one or the other. Art is more important to him, but “crack is a part of the art”. And then he brushes the question aside as stupid anyway.
It’s perhaps the most telling moment.
But then, enjoyable and good are not the same thing, really. And I suppose I did get a level of enjoyment from it. Perhaps most importantly it’s interesting. For one, I had no idea the art scene was so vibrant, with art battles and cheering fans, and maybe that’s because I’m uncultured, but there you have it.
Truthfully though I just found myself feeling sorry for the guy. I’m not sure how Laner wants us to see him, but he certainly doesn’t seem to be opposed to shooting the darker, harsher sides of drug addiction.
The are long moments where the camera just lingers, watching Foster and his “friends” smoking crack and talking. It’s quite difficult to watch, and occasionally it becomes uncomfortable, but then, isn’t this simply the truth of the situation? It’s hard to call the film out for these moments when they’re all part of the point.
Occasionally it loses its way, as is the nature of feature length documentaries, getting side-tracked or going off on a tandem that seemingly goes nowhere, resulting in moments that feel filler, but here these moments seem even more pronounced. Perhaps it’s the rambling nature of Foster, but there are several moments of him that go on far too long, where he just talks and says things that don’t really make any sense.
But then… as I already said, isn’t that sort of the point? I’m not sure how I feel about a film that has such an unflinching look at drug addiction and an obviously brilliant talent wasted or squandered so much. Can I really call the film out for meandering or rambling when that’s exactly what the subject calls for?
Foster is a broken man, and there are many moments where he simply talks. Maybe Laner should have found a more dynamic way to present this, but then maybe the reality is what he’s interested in capturing.
Mostly the film plays out like your standard documentary. Talking heads and interviews with footage layered over the top. But then occasionally the film will do something a little more interesting, even if it’s just a fade or a time lapse. The most visually appealing bit is when Foster’s art is brought to life, and I wish the film had done more with that as it’s really dynamic and makes for great viewing.
Stylistically it’s pretty raw. There are moments that would benefit from additional editing. Some of the interviews go on too long uninterrupted and some of the footage seems like filler, but it definitely adds to the feel. It’s shot mostly handheld and gets very personal with the subject, almost as though what we’re watching unfolds through his eyes. Even the moment where we meet his daughter, Cypress, we don’t actually get to go and meet her, instead seeing her through a webcam interview. It creates a disconnect. The only person we ever get close enough to to really get a feel more is Foster himself.
In the end, if I’m recommending this film, I’m doing it with a sense of apprehension. It’s worth a watch, but there are certain things I want to make sure you’re aware of before you do. Like I said, I’m not sure how enjoyable I found it, but then, enjoyable doesn’t always equate to good.
If you’re wondering if it’s good, however, then I’m happy to say yes. This is a good movie. It’s a dark movie and it’s a sad movie, but it’s also a good one. It takes a long, hard look at its subject, relatively unbiased in its approach, and it presents a clear study of a tragic figure. I’m certainly interested in seeing some more of Laner’s work, but I’m not sure I could spend much longer in Foster’s company.
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