EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. Banksy, 2010)

The identity of the infamous British graffiti artist Banksy is unknown to the public at large. He appears in his own film, a documentary narrated by Rhys Ifans, wearing a hood with his face darkened and his voice altered by computer. Banksy, sounding a bit like Karl Pilkington from The Ricky Gervais Show, isn’t here to talk about himself though, he and many other renowned artists including Shepard Fairey (creator of the Barack Obama “Hope” poster) and Invader are on hand to discuss the curious case of Thierry Guetta.

The French born Guetta began his journey into the heart of art as a videographer. Always armed with a video camera, he taped street artists for years. The first half of this film contains tons of fun footage of various artists creating art all around their towns with stencils, stickers, tiles, or whatever works and some instances where they have to run from approaching cops. Guetta records everything he sees so his colleague Banksy encourages him to make a film out of it all. The resulting film Guetta edits is a bombastic choppy unwatchable fiasco that even makes Banksy question his friend’s mental health.

Banksy offers to take the footage and see what he can do with it – which, of course, is the documentary we’ve got here – while Guetta decides to try his hand at making street art of his own. Almost immediately Guetta dubs himself Mr. Brainwash and starts putting together a mammoth gallery show called “Life Is Beautiful” in L.A. in the summer of 2008. He somehow has created canvas after canvas of art heavily derived from the screen prints of Andy Warhol, but also from much of his friends work.

This is where some chin scratching comes in about the pink elephant in the room (BTW Mr. Brainwash’s exhibit actually features an actual pink elephant in the room) – is this odd man’s work a massive put-on at the expense of the entire art market? Is Banksy not just an observer but a co-conspirator, possibly the mastermind of this ruse? One critic (Jeannette Catsoulis, NYTimes) even went so far to call this film a “prankumentary”, but no matter what you call it, it provides more fascination than frustration at its riddles.

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP is a vital addition to the genre of docs including MY KID COULD PAINT THAT and WHO THE #$&% IS JACKSON POLLACK that question the experts and expense of the world of fine and not so fine art. That is if you consider it a real documentary – I do because even the most fact driven documentaries can’t help but have some fiction somewhere in their packaging. If this one is the joke on its subject some think it is, it’s still a worthy visual document; the movie equivalent of great graffiti. And it’s a very good joke too.

More later…

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