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Exit Through the Gift Shop, the first film directed by reclusive
street-art legend Banksy, is a little puzzle-box of a documentary. It's
perfectly designed and pitched to be enjoyable on multiple levels: on
one as an entertaining, illuminating mini-history of "street art" and
on another - one entirely more convoluted and entertaining - as a
light-hearted "up yours" to both street artists and their patrons.
Ostensibly (to take the film's word for it) Banksy's film came about when he, as the premiere 21st Century graffiti art darling, was approached by Thierry Guetta, a French-born Los Angeleno. Guetta wanted to make a documentary about street art, and Banksy was the last major figure whose participation he felt he needed, as an affable personality, a love of video cameras and a chance relationship to Invader, a French street-art pioneer who networked with other artists like Shepard Fairey, had left Guetta with hundreds of hours of footage documenting the birth of the art.
After tracking Banksy down and shooting him working, Guetta retired to the cutting room. He emerged months later and showed it to Banksy. He didn't like the film, a couple of minutes of which are excerpted and are plainly terrible, and offered to take over Guetta's doc while Guetta returned to Los Angeles to turn himself into a street art sensation, named "Mr. Brainwash" or MBW. Transforming overnight from an affable, helpful documentarian to a one-man hype-monster artiste, MBW's enormous spraypaint cans, TV monsters and Warhol-style send-ups captured the attention of the LA art crowd, who spent over a million bucks on his stuff, much to the chagrin of Fairey and Banksy. Guetta's film about Banksy changes into Banksy's film about Guetta and street art, and the rise of a new unfortunate talent.
Except, as I and a lot of other folks believe, it's all made up. It's a hoax, it has to be, it's too hilariously perfect to be anything but. Banksy, as a street artist, has seen the perception of his works - by design temporary, and by design defacements - change from graffiti into art that needs preservation, that is cut out from walls and sold. Banksy, in making Exit Through the Gift Shop with Fairey and Guetta has found a way to deface, scrawl over and heap lighthearted disdain all over both himself and the people who snap up his art.
It's spectacular, it's brilliant and all the more so in that it's still a documentary, still a record of events. It's not artificial, not a mockumentary in the way that Spinal Tap is. MBW exists, having been created by Guetta or Banksy or both, and the film documents his arrival. Exactly who it is that arrives is the film's mystery.
Exit Through the Gift Shop captures the birth of a prank, an elaborate, entertaining gotcha that fits perfectly in Banksy's nose-tweaking, politically-aware, cheeky body of work. Moreover, the film doesn't rely on any rug-snapping-out to really work. It works if it's true, it works if it's not, because it's a construction that's above all entertaining. It's a glimpse, anyway, of a world that's built at night, by streetlight, one that's fascinating even if it is in the middle of pulling the wool over our eyes. It's genius, plain and (not so very much at all) simple.
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
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.
I came into this as a complete neutral. I knew of some street artists,
but not many, and liked the Banksy murals and oils that I had seen. I
came away from the film impressed.
Firstly and most importantly it's entertaining. It's smart, charismatic and at times quite, quite funny. But its also a film that leaves a lasting impression as it has an ending that is a bit ambiguous as to whether it is a prank or not. It is a film of two halves - both halves providing great PR for the street artists. The first half is a documentary of several street artists. The street artists are likable and unpretentious. Their message is unmistakable and runs along the lines of 'We enjoy what we do and hope you do'. And I must admit I did. Top of this pile is Banksy. Obviously incredibly talented and laugh out loud, he steals the show as the docu focuses on his palestinian wall art, his Disneyland prank and the LA Show. Its impressive stuff. Now the ambiguous second half. Thierry, the filmmaker, himself, becomes an artist and the film takes great pleasure in showing how awful he is. Despite this he manages to put on a successful show in LA. Instantly it becomes a satire on contemporary art and how the art buying public are sometimes unable to distinguish between good and bad art. What is ambiguous here is the authenticity of Thierry, aka Mr Brainwash, Is this a prank where he is deliberately awful, or is he genuinely oblivious to his awfulness. Well you will have to watch it to form your own opinion. I guarantee at the very least you'll have an enjoyable hour and a half forming that opinion
An experience will ultimately become a diluted memory, unless the
experience itself is documented in image or film, in which case it will
last forever (or until it is deleted/destroyed...). 'Exit Through The
Gift Shop' is a brilliant examination of the underground street art
culture, and a poignant look at man's obsession with a culture he is
increasingly drawn into throughout his life.
Thierry Guetta (pronounced Te-ree), is a French immigrant living Los Angeles with his loving wife and children and a good honest job, but there is one object he will never leave the house without; his video camera. Guetta has been enticed into the everyday cinema verité movement of simply recording any, and everything that goes on in his life. From playing with his children, to his ultimate attraction of following other street artists around and documenting their work, Guetta loves to watch, document and admire from behind the lens. Guetta eventually earns the trust and respect of various artists around the globe including the elusive Banksy, his cousin Space Invader and Shepard Fairey, and provides the audience with an up close and personal view of a culture (or industry) which has been projected into the limelight over the past five years.
Narrated by Rhys Ifans, 'Exit' has been acknowledged as not having a registered director, instead it is a smoothly edited combination of Guetta's extensive and various filmed sequences from over the years (the film shows his EXTENSIVE physical collection of tapes from more than decade of film-making) and interviews with various leading figures in the industry. For example Banksy is interviewed at length over his involvement with Guetta and comes across as a very down-to-earth, humble and at times, incredibly funny person. While everybody, including Guetta, are extremely brazen and don't hold back when speaking about each other, their profession or how the street art culture has developed over time into a somewhat monopolistic environment (which can be viewed by the fact that the rich and famous turned out in droves for Banksy's first exhibition in the United States).
This isn't a film about 'graffiti' though, as some may simply see it as on the surface, aside from the exploration of a fast growing community it is also a deep, scary and heart-warming look at Thierry Guetta's life over a decade onwards as he constantly leaves behind his family and his job to follow various artists around the globe. Mentally unstable, or one of the greatest French minds of the last twenty years, nobody is quite sure what Thierry Guetta (also known as Mr Brainwash) is, but what everybody does acknowledge is that he is a man with a passion and while he may not follow the same ideology as everybody else, his heart is still in the right place. 'Exit Through The Gift Shop' is a fascinating documentary focusing on a rising culture that many people may not have much knowledge about, except for knowing the name of the elusive, and as I have mentioned, surprisingly hilarious Banksy.
Not that I felt the same thrill Thierry must have gotten while roaming
the streets with street artists, I however admit to downloading the
movie via torrent (yes its illegal), and so watched it in my own living
room for anyone interested in the circumstances of the review.
Viewers should be reminded that Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary rather than a movie, but at the same time plays out more like an adventure movie than an educational one about street artists. Albeit being more down to earth, a fitting comparison could be Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
Thierry Guetta is our main character and camera guy at the same time. While lurking behind the camera he tells us his intriguing story when his life took a sudden and distinct turn. He had became known as "the guy with the camera" - developing some kind of compulsive disorder after his mother passed. His argument that everything should be recorded or else abruptly might get lost at any point in life seems reasonable but his thousands of tapes, that nobody would ever watch, piled up in his basement confirms the maladaptive nature of his behavior.
His compulsive filming became a useful tool first when he met a street artist that he began to follow - filming every event of the artists creative process. He sank deeper and deeper into the world of street artists and that became sort of an addiction to Thierry. He seemed to almost forget about his wife and kids. Exit Through the Gift Shop tells us as much about street artisting as it does about Thierry himself. Despite being, as he himself points out, "a ghost behind the camera", his character truly steals the show. This is by no means a problem but rather enrich the story with a greater purpose. Thierrys meeting with Banksy and the following episodes poses a lot of interesting questions about what art really is, what it means to humans, what talent is made of and even about complex group behavior.
Despite being directed by a street artist and evidently put together from thousands of different tapes, Exit Through the Gift Shop is amazingly well directed. It doesn't feel hyped, it doesn't seem to lie or exaggerate the happenings and the fact that an interesting, motivated and special character gets to portrait everything from an outside view is fascinating to watch. My text is hardly enough to summarize it so the only tip i can give you is WATCH IT!
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a film where the less you know about it beforehand, the better.
Directed by the mysterious street artist Banksy, the ostensible story
follows a French immigrant to Los Angeles named Thierry Guetta who made
his living operating a second hand clothing shop.
As a hobby, Guetta began videotaping the nighttime antics of various local street artists like Shepard Fairey (who created the famous HOPE poster of Barack Obama) as they plastered their guerrilla art on empty billboards, highway overpasses and the blank sides of buildings often times just a few steps ahead of the vigilant, but unappreciative L.A. police department.
Virtually any street artist who was anyone, including the elusive Banksy, sooner or later got videotaped by Guetta, which led to hundreds of hours of raw footage being stored in unmarked boxes that no one would ever see.
Like a collection of dictionaries on a shelf, while they may have all the words necessary to tell a great story, until someone did the actual work of putting them into a coherent order, there would be no way to separate the signal from the noise.
Several attempts to bring order to this chaos were less than successful, finally, Thierry Guetta got tired of just documenting these street artists, hey, if they could be artists by just doing it, so could he. So, blatantly stealing these street artists style, methods and madness, Thierry Guetta declared himself an artist and began to create work on his own.
Yes, just like that.
Exit Through The Gift Shop finally takes us to the madcap opening of Thierry Guetta's first one-man show in a gallery created from an unused TV Studio. It is a huge success and becomes the "happening" place to be seen for a while. In fact, Thierry Guetta has probably made more money and generated more press than some of the street artists he used to film and who are still on the streets as it were, much to their annoyance.
Exit Through The Gift Shop is a thrilling and original film that grabs you from the first and won't let go; the only problem with all of this is it may just be a prank.
The clues to that are the fact that Banksy, the nominal director is a notorious prankster and not too many people seemed to have heard about this Thierry Guetta until this film was made.
One other thing, actor Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill, Greenberg, Pirate Radio) provides the narration for the film and unless I am very mistaken, also seems to be the disguised voice of Banksy, who we see interviewed in heavy silhouette to hide his face. It also seems odd that all of this could have been happening in the very public L.A. art community without more people on the outside hearing about it.
Either way, this is a fast paced and exciting film that will tickle you, astound you and fascinate you, even if you know nothing about street art. Which makes Exit Through The Gift Shop either the most believable mockumentary in film history, or the most disingenuous documentary.
Exit Through The Gift Shop celebrates the subversive excitement many artists feel as they skewer the pieties of the pop culture that spawned them and not so subtly reminds us that on occasion, even the tamest of artists will bite the hand that feeds them. Don't miss it.
I'd heard of the film but must admit to watching it with no expectation
whatsoever, so there's no point in me saying I wasn't disappointed as I
had no expectation BUT I was immediately enchanted and absolutely
hypnotised by this fantastic tale that weaves fact with fiction.
Banksy blurred and blacked-out next to a monkey head with no eyes under glass...superb! A yuppie pop attack that given half a chance a yuppie would probably buy as art or media...AND then Banksy's effected voice...oh my giddy aunt...I almost poohed my pants with laughter...AND WHAT DOES HE DO? He proceeds to play slightly dumb and remote allowing those that he is having a poke at to continue BEING dumb and remote. You, Banksy mate (not that it matters to you) gained my respect straight away! HERE is a genuine film that IS 'STREET ART'.
But the real star of the piece --- as created by Banksy --- is Thierry Guetta...F**king Genius! A superb caricature for the modern age...not only is he a Warhol baby BUT he seems to be the actual mistake that Warhol made during a dodgy can of soup in HIS fifteen minutes of madness! If he's really like he is portrayed then he's a passionate groupie at best without any artistic ability whatsoever...unless art has become project management (...AND to be honest I'm not sure whether Banksy is really making THAT point BUT hey I'm one measly member of the stupid masses...) Hell, it doesn't matter as Guetta does a good deal of his talking whilst overlooked by a portrait of the Laughing Cavalier...whose heady hairstyles he seems to emulate...so consciously or subconsciously he is laughing at us whilst laughing at the character he creates...everything is so manufactured that it is almost stencilled in a way that STREET ART never was BUT in a way that the mass market bullsh*t IS! What can I say but this is a portrayal of a distorted art market and the plain meaninglessness of pop-art? Now that everyone can have their fifteen minutes of fame I guess the thing to de-construct is fame itself...and that's what Banksy does here...and has been doing since he marked his first wall...I could go on but it'd waste your time with my idiocy and isn't that what this film is about?! Take a leaf out of Banksy's Beckett-like debut (not only has he Waited for Godot HE stencilled him)--- Think for yourself and create your own reality!
Definite must watch for everyone in my opinion.
Like the very nature of the underground street art movement "Exit
Through the Gift Shop" feels fresh and almost subversive. It doesn't
matter to me if it is a conceptualized mockumentary, or a genuine
attempt to record the outsider reality experienced by brilliant street
artists like Shepard Fairey, Invader, and the infamous Banksy. "Exit
Through The Gift Shop" is mischievous and immediate in the same way
that street art is.
Mainly we watch the evolution of Thierry Guetta from an obsessive-compulsive videographer to a successful popular artist whose street credibility is quickly parlayed into the show of shows. Guetta takes contemporary icons and gives them Warholian emphasis, so we see a reinvention of Madonna, who once reinvented herself in a Marilyn-like way, and who we later learn commissions Mister Brainwash (Guetta) to design her cover art. Guetta's point-of-view is absolutely authentic in the way it synthesizes and skewers popular culture. Or is it Banksy's point-of-view? It doesn't matter. It's brilliant, provocative, charming, and completely entertaining.
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