DÉJÀ VU The replica billboard.
If you found yourself on Benefit Street this past Monday, you could have been forgiven for wondering if Providence's own rascal king had made a stunning return to politics: there, behind the First Baptist Church, was a large "Re-Elect Cianci" billboard.
But, on closer examination, you would have found something askew. Plastered over the former mayor's visage: the round, sturdy, inscrutable face of the late wrestler Andre the Giant.
This, you see, was a replica of one of the city's great art stunts: the 1990 defacing of a Cianci billboard that stood just on the other side of the church, at North Main and Steeple streets.
The perpetrator, of course, was a RISD student by the name of Shepard Fairey, who would ride his "Andre the Giant" meme to a career as a world famous street artist.
The re-creation, this past week, was part of RISD student Julian Marshall's senior thesis: a short film, tentatively titled Obey the Giant, on Fairey's undergraduate days.
I spoke with Marshall on the set, after watching a couple of cops tackle a stand-in for the young Fairey for the cameras. He was hush-hush about the plot and he asked that I keep the whole project "on the DL" for a couple of days.
But here's what the filmmaker did tell me: the film, made with Fairey's blessing, is a fictionalized version of the billboard stunt that launched an artist.
In an illustration class dubbed "Style and Substance," Fairey was given a fortune cookie and told to illustrate the message inside: "to affect the quality of the day is no small achievement."
The media storm that followed his billboard prank was, undoubtedly, affecting. And so, in a smaller way, was Andre's brief return to College Hill this week.