GOUCH Your Eyes Out: Film Examines Legacy of Brooklyn Graffiti Writer
A beautifully shot documentary about a grimy subject
Photos by: GOUCH
When filmmaker Raul Buitrago and graffiti writer GOUCH began to correspond in 2014 about making a film that would highlight his graffiti, their initial goal was to create a short video focused on action footage. While GOUCH had been featured in the classic State Your Name graf documentary, neither had worked on a more substantial film project before.
But once they started to film and record some of GOUCH’s voiceover narration, a more complex story emerged. They decided to run with it, and the result is a 24-minute documentary film simply called GOUCH that explores the question of what it means to leave a legacy as a graffiti writer.
Rather than rushing through action sequences (though there are plenty of those in the film), Buitrago chronicles GOUCH’s life growing up in South Brooklyn and his dedication to developing his own style on and off the street. But GOUCH also reveals a more private side of its subject. The film hints at the writer’s past battle with personal demons before showing him in his present role as a father, giving the viewer a more nuanced idea of the impulses, both negative and positive, that have fueled GOUCH’s unrelenting drive.
At one point, GOUCH talks about practicing his tag on scraps of paper and how his curious daughter would ask him what he was doing. “I didn’t want to call it graffiti,” he reminisces. “So I said, ‘Oh, I’m doing special letters, not a letter, it’s a special letter, ya know, there’s something else to it.’ She was like, ‘Can you teach me special letters?'”
Throughout the film, we get a sense of the constant friction between GOUCH’s obsessive love for graffiti and his everyday life. “Graffiti has kept me grounded to who I actually am. Even though I have to switch into my dual personality every day at work and pretend I’m not a writer, I always feel the most comfortable being a graffiti writer and being around graffiti writers. Just being me, not hiding anything.”
By nature, many graffiti writers are guarded people, but GOUCH admits Buitrago did a great job getting him to divulge. “I definitely would not have shared my struggle or have gotten personal at all five or ten years ago,” GOUCH tells Mass Appeal. “Raul really pushed for that personal stuff. I kept mentioning to him that I wanted to explore it, but I didn’t think it would get as personal as it did.” But, he says, “I’ve always been an all or nothing kind of person.”
Buitrago, a photographer by training, cut his teeth as a filmmaker on music videos and is influenced by classic graf films as much as the work of feature directors like David Fincher and the Coen Brothers, or documentary filmmaker Sean Dunne. “Putting out a high quality film was incredibly important to me,” he said in an email, “because I wanted to do his story justice and contribute something powerful to the graf community. I wanted it to have a certain mood and tone.”
He creates that pensive and soulful mood in part by interspersing action footage with shallow focus portraits of Brooklyn’s weathered landscape. The borough of Brooklyn thus inadvertently becomes an integral character in the story. For the score, the pair tapped an old friend of GOUCH’s, the musician Jazzsoon.
“We felt the music had to be a nod to the original Videograf series,” GOUCH recalls. “I wanted the music to all be original from just one person. I knew [Jazzsoon] would capture the vibe we wanted the film to have. The music instantly makes me reminisce to the ’90s black book sessions I had with Jazzsoon and other Brooklyn writers in my basement. Those were the early stages of crafting our skills.”
Longevity was also important to GOUCH, he wanted a sound that would not sound dated in a few years. “In 10 years, are you gonna listen to 50 Cent’s ‘In Da Club’ or to A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Midnight Marauders’? I choose Tribe.”
As to his legacy, to GOUCH it comes down as much to sharing his knowledge with the next generation as the creative act itself. “I’m just happy to be a part of this community. I’m honored that people and my peers think I’m good at writing. I have a craft that I can hand down the same way it was handed down to me. That means the most. Being able to keep this culture growing, but placing a strong emphasis on the true craftsmanship of it. This history needs to be preserved.”