In Bob Bryan’s low-budget 1995 documentary “Graffiti Verite,” L.A. street artist Tony Quan, aka ‘TEMPT,’ talks about how artists in his community feed off each other like jazz musicians. “Graffiti is very communal…very interactive,” he says. A clip of this interview is also now featured in the new film “Getting Up: The TEMPT ONE Story,” and it provides a great jumping off point with which to consider the overall point of this inspiring documentary.
The feature debut of director Caskey Ebeling (whose short “The Package” premiered at Slamdance in 2007), “Getting Up” follows Quan in the years following his 2003 hospitalization for Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or ALS, which has completely paralyzed him from head to toe. Without the means to speak or breathe on his own let alone continue producing works of art, he became the reason and guinea pig for technology that would allow him to be creative again.
In part, the film is a just another moving cause-doc and an unapologetic advertisement for a few non-profits, including the TEMPT ONE ALS Foundation, as well as an award-winning invention called the EyeWriter, which was co-developed by the film’s executive producer, entrepreneur Mick Ebeling (Caskey’s husband). The primary story concerns the making of this gadget, which allows Quan to type and, more importantly, tag a wall through the movement of his eyes (and for the latter purpose, additional help from lasers). But the simultaneous narrative about Quan’s willpower and triumph over his affliction is the dramatic and emotional center, and it holds up the geekier, more promotional aspects.
Another side to the film, one which I find most appealing, is the overlying point about communal collaboration. Nearly everything about “Getting Up” and its combined stories have to do with this idea of interaction and people working off each other. You’ve got the art of graffiti, the jazzy hip hop music of Money Mark, the nature of filmmaking itself, accented by the documentary structure and the fact that this in a way this film continues from Bryan’s earlier film. Then you have the EyeWriter, which has been designed and produced as an open-source device and program and is already leading to further DIY advancements in the technology.
There’s a hint of politics in the film’s point, as well, because all of this communal support and creation is discussed as an alternative, or substitute for, government funded programs and progress. It’s all about doing things ourselves, and together, rather than waiting on the bureaucratic and profit-minded hold-ups that come with both state and industry. It’s an interesting turn for the future when you take it as a response to Quan’s comments in the film about how man’s progress in the past century seem to have led to new diseases like ALS — the sad irony would be if one day we discovered spray paint caused his condition, or if the next century brings new problems caused by technological developments like the EyeWriter. I guess we just have to stay optimistic.
“Getting Up,” which I can also appreciate for the double meaning title, is nice in the way it unites the cultures. It’s a doc that can be enjoyed by artists and geeks alike, most evident in the way one nerdy collaborator from Dell speaks at length in non-layman’s terms while being subtitled with more concise, street-friendly jargon (including words like “smooove”). Yet those cultures aren’t the only ones for whom this is an accessible and entertaining doc. From the opening dream sequence, featuring a digital voiceover narration from Quan himself (he’s also credited as writing the film), to the hopeful and heartwarming epilogue during the end credits, it’s a film that will make you smile and think positively about the future of one bedridden artist and of all mankind.
The only thing that would make it better is if it were a fully collaborative documentary and the Ebelings were curator-producers. Maybe some other filmmakers can come along and work off this and remix it.
“Getting Up: The TEMPT ONE Story” just premiered at the 2012 Slamdance Film Festival
Recommended If You Like: “Wild Style”; “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”; “So Much So Fast”