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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
Exit Through the Gift Shop may be all smoke and mirrors but it is a highly provocative mirror we look into, one that raises many questions about the commercialization of art and even about the authenticity of the documentary form itself. Ostensibly directed by the mysterious British graffiti artist Banksy, the film, shot with a not too steady hand-held camera, describes the attempts by Los Angeles clothing store owner Thierry Guetta to capture on film the world of street artists, previously hidden from public view. Banksy, who has developed quite an underground reputation for outrageousness after posting his own paintings in the Met and other museums, is shown hooded, in shadows, and with his voice distorted.
He begins the film by explaining that the movie was supposed to be about him but when Guetta's attempt at film-making proved to be unwatchable, he took over the making of the film and it became a documentary about Guetta, and how he was transformed into the street artist known as "Mr. Brainwash". Narrated by Welsh actor Rhys Ifans (slotted to play Edward de Vere in the upcoming Roland Emmerich film Anonymous), Guetta is an garrulous and outgoing Frenchman who carries his video camera with him wherever he goes, filling up tape after tape. After meeting with his cousin known as Space Invader, a graffiti artist famous for mosaics showing characters from the Space Invader video game, he is introduced to Shepard Fairey, the man responsible for the Obama "hope" campaign in 2008 as well as street artists Monsieur André, Swoon, Sweet Toof, Borf, and many others.
Shepard and Thierry become partners in the clandestine world of graffiti-making and, even though Shepard feels that that there is something not quite right about Guetta, he is happy to have him around as a "security guard" who is willing to climb tall buildings to locate the most lucrative spots. Eventually, Thierry realizes that, in order for his film to be successful, he must find a way to find the reclusive Banksy. He finds Banksy, however, almost impossible to track down. The power of intention works wonders though, for on a trip to Los Angeles, Banksy himself contacts Thierry to ask for his help in finding the best places to post in L.A. The end result is an ongoing relationship and a Banksy art show called "Barely Legal" that does extremely well financially. As far as its artistic merits, I will leave that to others to decode.
After Banksy tells Guetta to leave his tapes with him and go put on his own show, Thierry does just that, renting an old CBS Studio and transforming it into a factory where he endeavors mightily to put on his own show "Life is Beautiful" under the name "Mr. Brainwash". The 2008 show, aided by an L.A. Weekly cover story, earns Thierry over one million dollars and catapults the Frenchman into the ranks of the world's most popular street artists. Exit Through the Gift Shop may be the real deal or it may be a tongue-in-cheek spoof of the gullibility of the public and the crass commercialism of the art world but only Banksy really knows. It does, however, provide a fast-paced and highly entertaining glimpse into a world that has, heretofore, eluded the camera because of its secretive nature and dubious legality.
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