The story of how an eccentric French shop-keeper and amateur film-maker attempted to locate and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner. The film contains...
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The story of how an eccentric French shop-keeper and amateur film-maker attempted to locate and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner. The film contains footage of Banksy, Shephard Fairey, Invader and many of the world's most infamous graffiti artists at work. Written by
Sundance Film Festival
Banksy's humour is as sharp as ever - but just who is the target?
It took me a while to get a chance to see this film: anybody who was around Bristol last summer for Banksy's 'Homecoming' exhibition will be aware of the popularity of the city's most celebrated son, and therefore I shouldn't have been surprised that when the first three times I tried to see the film the cinema was sold out. However, I got there in the end.
In my admittedly naïve opinion, street art is one of the most significant art movement of the 21st century. Its attraction lies in the fact that it is one of the most democratic forms of visual art there is a conscious rejection of the safety net of critical censorship or gallery authority. Instead, the public are engaged with artists' work throughout the course of their daily lives, and it is up to them to conclude which side of the line this kind of work treads is it graffiti, a public menace and an eyesore, or is it a work of art that has a right to be displayed wherever the artist chooses? I'm rambling. However, I wanted to establish my feelings towards street art as a whole before engaging with Banksy's satirical and humorous representation of it within Exit Through the Gift Shop.
To the film
Banksy's first foray into film-making drags his unique sweet and sour mix of humour and political satire kicking and screaming onto the silver screen. Anyone hoping for a revelation of his true identity is to be disappointed the film opens with a blacked-out figure of a man in a hood, and whilst the Bristol accent defies the voice alteration, it's clear that this film is not designed to be a personal unmasking. Rather, Banksy's humour has a very different kind of revelation in mind.
The true hero (or perhaps anti-hero would be a better description) is the curiously care-free French shop-keeper/amateur filmmaker, whose interest in graffiti artists is borne out of a chance confrontation with the artist known as 'Space Invader'. The film follows Guetta's attempts to capture his encounters with various street artists, including the notorious Banksy, on camera, and in the process Banksy encourages Guetta to create a documentary out of the ridiculous amount of film that he has amassed over several years of his life.
Unfortunately, Guetta, although a handy cameraman, is quite clearly not a filmmaker. Part of Banksy's skill in creating this film is that it makes us ask just who is the director in this haphazard process. One of the frequently-quoted lines of the film comes from Banksy himself, saying "it's basically the story of how one man set out to film the un-filmable. And failed." The character of Guetta that we see on screen is simply ridiculous, and yet we are attracted by his attitude of naivety. He is a hugely entertaining personality, and even more so because he appears to take himself so seriously. Even Banksy cannot quite know what to make of him. Is he a disguised genius, or a fool who got lucky? Either way, Banksy's portrayal of the way in which Guetta engages with the art world breathes new life into that clichéd question of what actually gives art both aesthetic and financial value. With the help of Rhys Ifans' superbly wry narration, the film conducts us through the emergence of the street art counterculture, and how perceptions of it have changed within the political, artistic and social establishment.
There are so many things that could be said about this film, but it is dangerous to say more without ruining the sense of the unexpected that the film generates. That is a tribute to the intricacy of the documentary narrative, in which real life personalities generate the same thrill of the unknown as fictional plot lines. Suffice it to say, I left feeling lusciously confused who was I in the end laughing at or with? In the face of Banksy's teasingly ironic vision, no one is left unscathed. Not even us. Not even Banksy himself.
James Gill Twitter @jg8608 More reviews at http://web.me.com/gilljames/Single_Admission
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