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
asks the tried and true question really: what is art, and who the hell can be an artist?
Exit Through the Gift Shop is credited as "a film by Banksy", who is a notorious and perhaps the most popular and widely acclaimed (and the premiere provocateur) in the group of street artists from the past several years. Yet his credit as director is something of a lark; he's never directed before, and he claims at the end of the film that this will be the last time he helps someone make a documentary on street artists. The bulk of the footage shot was by another artist (or some would say 'so-called'), Theirry Guetta, a former clothing store owner who used to take super-cheap and mis-made clothes and sell them for rocket-high prices as if they were designer wear, who started taping everything one day, just whatever was around him. Then, when his cousin, nicknamed 'Space Invader', took him around to show him how he put up his stenciled artwork around town, Thierry became enamored and followed anyone who would let him around town with his camera.
Soon, a documentary was looking like it was taking shape, but was it really? At one point, after years of filming and amassing such a large collection that it would make all OCD-ers cringe, he did try and make a documentary out of it called 'LIFE REMOTE CONTROL - THE MOVIE', which Banksy, upon watching it, didn't really know what to say, since he hated it and couldn't really put it in words. Thierry wasn't a filmmaker, and he wasn't an artist, but he went after doing both anyway, and it's him that Banksy makes the focus of, taking his masses of footage- most of it on street artists who remain anonymous (only a few, like Shepard Fairey who made the red and blue Obama poster so iconic, go unblurred on camera)- and telling this story of this... kind of nutty guy, and how somehow, by his determination and, indeed, some mental imbalance, he became "Mr. Brain-Wash", a self-created art phenomenon that is basically a huge collection of Andy Warhol rip-off screen prints of celebrities (how huge you might ask? Well, there's a reason I kept thinking of Howard Hughes during the film, and a Spruce Goose comparison isn't far off).
Banksy says at the start he didn't want Thierry doing a documentary on him since he didn't think he was very interesting, and turned the camera on his original documentarian instead. I wonder though how much of this is really true, or perhaps just part of Banksy's own mystique; the guy is like The Shadow of street artists, with a touch of Tyler Durden. He pops up, does his thing, and leaves, trying to get by with his "gray-legal-area" artwork in Britain and elsewhere, and making waves with his real provocative pieces (i.e. the art on the Palestine wall, and especially the stunt at Disneyland, which is one of the most fascinating parts of the film). He remains a shadow unto himself on screen, becoming like one of his stencils in a silhouette form and a voice muffled by distortion. But then again, he knows that he can only be so self-indulgent - how can he keep up, for example, with a guy like Thierry Guetta.
He is the real star of the film, and he really is one of a kind, a genuinely interesting "character" who sometimes, ala Howard Hughes, repeats things a bit too much, and like Michael Scott on the Office can seem to put himself in some awkward positions. He's also good in a crunch (such as the Disneyland incident), and his very first piece of art- his own self-portrait as a guy with shaggy hair and a hat and a camera- was put all over town by himself and it's a genuinely good piece. And his how he relates to others if interesting too; he takes some really long stretches of time from his family, and those he documents like Shepard Fairey don't know whether he's a genuinely good guy or just wacko, or both in a single bound. Certainly when he is finally let loose, by way of a gentle suggestion by Banksy, to create his own art it becomes like pushing a river-boat over a mountain: something huge that should be impossible, but there it is, and WTF?
The reaction to his art, and how people see it in the film (frankly I never heard of the guy, unlike Banksy, though I'm assuming he's a big deal in elite art circles), is mixed really. A guy who just pours out hundreds of pieces of art and paintings right away instead of taking years for the craft? What separates him from Banksy, and it's most likely what makes this such a great documentary, is the method of hype. That really is what is the hook here (I can imagine this being a fantastic double feature, by the way, with My Kid Could Paint That), that this guy ended up being such a sensation by pimping himself out there, getting on the cover of a magazine, without building up street cred (forgive the pun) that most of the artists shown here need to get. As Banksy notes, there are no real rules in art, though MBW probably did break them... which he can't really condemn nor condone exactly. He is what he is, and his big bushy sideburns lead up to passionate eyes and a sense of life and art that is... um, influenced?
This is the only documentary you need to see on street art, if there even are any others. Perhaps Banksy means for this to be *the* statement on it and leave it at that. It kept me contemplating long after it was over, and I'm sure to revisit it many times. That I have only a minimal interest in street art should go without saying; Guetta, Banksy, and everyone else make this a must-see.
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