"Exit Through the Gift Shop" Movie Review (2010)

6/20/2010 Posted by Admin

"Exit Through the Gift Shop"

Movie Review

By our guest blogger, Tim Strain

Banksy’s alleged directorial debut is a tough movie to wrap your head around. No matter how many hours or days I have spent trying to determine the core theme of the world’s “first street art disaster film,” as its posters and trailers have dubbed it, my efforts have been fruitless. It is a string of contradictions that raises many questions about the purpose of art and the determination of authorship. It sharply critiques the commercial aspect of art. It claims to be a documentary but I’m sure that some, if not all, of it is fabricated. I want to call it original, but I think that may be missing the point.

Since you are still reading, you are curious and brave enough to see this movie. If nothing else, I can promise you won’t be bored. The 87-minute documentary hums along at an exhilarating pace, chronicling a good chunk of the lives of its subjects and still making them mysterious and larger-than-life icons.

It begins by telling how a French-born Los Angeles vintage clothes store owner named Thierry Guetta began compulsively filming most everything in his daily life (I mean everything--use your imagination). He finds a purpose to his aimless recording when he begins tagging along with his cousin, the street artist Space Invader. Through him, Guetta meets infamous graffiti-ers Shepard Fairey and others.  Meanwhile, he works his way up the “tagging” world’s hierarchy until he reaches the top, filming Banksy’s often complicated and always sharply focused antics. The chief iconoclast’s identity remains a mystery to the public to this day (unless you believe The Onion).

Guetta’s role shifts from documentarian to active participant as he becomes more accepted by the shadowy figures. We see the man become seduced by--and then obsessed with--the street art process. He records thousands of hours of footage, left unorganized and without a theme or direction in boxes around his house (which, along with his family, gets sacrificed for more time spent recording/tagging). Only after he reveals his collection of unmarked tapes to Banksy does he admit that he has no plan for how his “documentary” is going to end up.

Banksy takes it upon himself to edit the footage and persuades Guetta to pursue his own style of art. “I used to encourage everyone I knew to make art--I don't do that anymore,” Banksy says. What unfolds is a straight-forward tale of incredible commercial success, as well as a send-up of not just the modern art business but the principle of art itself. Guetta adopts the moniker “Mr. Brainwash,” and the film reaches its funniest and most perplexing stage.

After following so many street artists, he is practically resigned to copying their style. At best, he has the ability to look at a thing and re-produce it as if it stemmed from Dr. Seuss’s imagination. At worst, he coldly steals the style of artists who worked harder, longer and under much more strenuous circumstances at the expense of them and his family. And damn, does he make fat stacks from “his work,” which often is just envisioned by him and physically constructed by for-hire lackeys. Is he a painter? Yes. By the film's conclusion, does he end up like a film director adapting someone else’s work more than anything else? Yes.

One of Mr. Brainwash’s exploited former collaborators remarks with obvious disdain of MBW’s success that he doesn’t know who the joke is on, or if there even is a joke. That sums up my thoughts.

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