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Movie Review: Exit Through The Gift Shop

Care of Netflix’s Watch Instantly service, I just finished Exit Through the Gift Shop (Netflix, IMDB),a fun, and strange, documentary on street art, psychosis, the idiocy of the art world, and Banksy. The focus of the documentary is Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman living in Los Angeles with his wife and children. He’s something of a videomaniac, continuously recording his life. Through a familial connection, he uncovers the world of street art, which then becomes his obsession, first to document, and then to produce. He crosses paths with Shepard Fairey (of OBEY/GIANT and the Obama Hope poster fame), and, most notably Banksy, perhaps the most notorious street artist in the world.

The film tells the tale of how, at Banksy’s urging, Guetta stopped filming the world of street art, and started making some of his own. Under the moniker Mr BrainWash, he briefly engages in the kind of paste-ups and stenciling the Fairey and Banksy have made famous, but then quickly decides to have his own giant warehouse show. The lark being, his warehouse show, typically the kind of thing that comes after an artist works for years, if not decades, but for him happens after just months, is an overwhelming success.

More then anything, the film is fun. Street art is a great subject, what with all the surreptitious evening shoots and people going where they shouldn’t, doing things they shouldn’t be doing. Guetta is a great subject — outrageous French accent, seemingly crazy, but also with a strange ability to get others to rally in his support and pull off this monstrous show. I actually found that part endearing, because it spoke to a kind of karma — Guetta had given much of himself, his time, and his resources to help other street artists, and they ended up supporting him, too.

A conceit of the film is that it was originally going to be a film by Guetta about street art, but then became a film by Banksy about Guetta. This is important because a one of the film’s main themes is that, well, the art world is a load of bollocks. It starts small, with video of Banksy infiltrating the Tate with his art, then the ascendant rise of street art as a subject of auctions, culminating in Mr Brainwash’s surprisingly popular show, given he had no real art bona fides.

This has lead some to think the whole point of the film is for Banksy to flash a big “up yours” to the art world.

Some have even gone so far as to say the entire Guetta/Mr Brainwash story is a hoax or prank, perpetrated by Bansky and Fairey, to prove their point. A stance I find appalling, because, really, there is no evidence whatsoever of a prank. However, there’s a sad class of smart-erati who live in fear of being duped, and in order to demonstrate their smartness, level accusations such as “prank” or “hoax” on such things. Regardless of whether there is evidence. Really, this kind of thinking is no different than conspiracy theorists, piecing together a set of insubstantial “evidence” as a demonstration of a diabolical master plan.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a fun, quirky, pointed diversion, Exit Through the Gift Shop is definitely worth a look.

  1. I really enjoyed it too, and I also find talk of whether it’s a hoax or not quite tedious. (That said, the epic comments on the fastco post are entertaining just for the sheer volume of baseless fussing they’ve drawn out of people.)

    I think the movie is a great example of old world meets new world: if you transplant French eccentricism into LA, land of boundless opportunity and optimism, you’re in for a treat 🙂

  2. No evidence of a prank? Aside from everything in the film being factually preposterous and calculated for satirical effect? It didn’t dampen my enjoyment, but seriously.

  3. You lured me to the Netflix download, but I quickly exited through the the delete button.

  4. 1) So the proof that the movie is not a Banksy-instigated prank is … a Banksy interview where he says it’s not? I would rate that low on the credibility scale.

    2) “Thierry Guetta” pointedly refuses to answer direct questions about who he is & his role in the art.

    3) Why not? Among other reasons, iit would probably be fraud.

    4) His “art” is, by any fair measure, simply awful.

    5) Your conclusion just doesn’t stand up to reason. Let’s agree that this is one of the funniest, most canny movies about art ever. If it “really happened,” then it was just random chance that it came about during a documentary about world-famous art-world prankster Banksy? That would be the most extraordinary coincidence ever. If it had been a movie about Penn & Teller, would you still be buying it?

    On the other hand, sometimes these things do turn out to be real. For instance, that movie about Joaquin Phoenix becoming a rapper. Oh wait …

  5. Ver-ry inter-resting. Hmm… Maybe I deleted too quickly because I didn’t pick up on the joke.

    Dammit, Hugh! Now I’ll have to take another look-see. I hate to be out of hip.

  6. Okay. SO now I have taken another brief dip into ETTGS. Is it real or prank? Is The Blair Witch Project one or the other? ETTGS is quite simply a sketch comedy. It is neither a real documentary nor a hoax. It is a comedy like Airplane or Cannes Man. Can anyone really believe that the early “home movie” scenes and narration of the Guetta life, business and family are genuine cinema verite? My falling out with the movie started there because I recognized it for what it is and didn’t find it funny. What did become a little humorous to me was the fakey face blocks and voice scrambles pretending to arbitrality disguise some participants of the production. Also the costumed security guards chasing but unable to catch a tagger-street artist, plus a couple of prat falls made me chuckle. But not for a moment did I believe I was seeing anything other than a Borat wannabee.

  7. No, not the Banksy interview. Did you not read the link? The author, Sean Bonner, made it pretty clear he was familiar with the players. I suppose you could call his participation into question, but then you’re moving from hoax to vast conspiracy.

  8. Bottom line: personal perception should be one’s ultimate authority.

    This item in today’s LA TIMES is somewhat apropos:

    As to whether he planned to show up at the Kodak Theatre, the notoriously mysterious artist issued a statement: “I don’t agree with the concept of award ceremonies, but I’m prepared to make an exception for the ones I’m nominated for. The last time there was a naked man covered in gold paint in my house, it was me.”

    If Banksy is not an artist of irony and subterfuge, what is he?

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