Directed By Banksy
Starring Thierry Guetta, Shepard Fairey, Space Invader and Banksy
A documentary by, and ostensibly about, renowned street artist Banksy, Exit Through The Gift Shop isn’t quite the traditional documentary you might have envisioned, which is hardly surprising considering the camera-shy, paint-happy prankster at the heart of it all. Charting the travels of eccentric Frenchman Thierry Guetta (who has an OCD habit of recording every moment of his life with a videocamera, resulting in mountains of uncatalogued footage), the film follows him as he ensconces himself into the world of street art, capturing L.A.’s most popular artists on tape. When he sets off intent on bagging his white whale in the form of the elusive Banksy, the Brit artist instead turns the camera on Guetta as he starts his own talentless, derivative and bizarrely lucrative art career.
Banksy’s justification for choosing to focus on Guetta is simply that he’s a much more interesting person. While that’s certainly debatable considering the talent and mystique surrounding the former, Thierry certainly provides a much more fertile avenue through whom to explore the artist’s frustration with the commercialised nature of contemporary art. Banksy sees the potential in Guetta’s footage to craft a documentary on street art, preserving works that are often fleeting and cleaned away or disposed of within a day. When Thierry’s first attempt at a film is an indecipherable conceptual nightmare, Banksy decides to take over and try to put something together from the footage himself. To get some time alone with the tapes, he nudges Thierry towards getting out on the street and trying his hand at art, little knowing that he’d just unwittingly created his own Frankenstein’s monster of artistic horror.
Guetta channels his inspiration to egotistically grandiose proportions, churning out an assembly line of hollow, derivative imitations of the great work he’d seen created by the genuine artists he’d shadowed. Under the name Mr. Brainwash, he schedules a major exhibit of his own, despite being an artist for 17 seconds. He creates a wave of self-propagated hype with huge billboards and ad campaigns as the audience sits cringing, waiting for the moment when the phony and clueless Guetta will be exposed as a pretentious fraud. Only…his show opens to universal praise as people snatch up his soulless simulacra for thousands of dollars. It’s the painfully sad, hilariously ironic punchline to Banksy’s satirical condemnation of the commercial art world.
Exit Through The Gift Shop is certainly a conversation stimulator, but while the issue of whether it’s all an elaborate hoax will certainly fuel discussion long after the credits roll, the question of how much of the film is genuine isn’t as important as the points it makes and the questions it raises. Filled with intelligent, scathing digs at the art world and incisive commentary, the film probes at a lot of prevalent issues at the heart of the art community and further afield. The subjective nature of art and what constitutes an artist, the fine line between inspiration and imitation, the role of hype and the commercialization of art are all brought to the fore with a deft touch and sure to spark debate after viewing.
While it’s an effective conjurer of intelligent debate though, the film hits the mark on a number of levels. It excels as a satirical jab at the art community, but the contradiction inherent in the film is while it seeks to condemn and dissuade talent-free “artists” and imitators without imagination, it’s sure to inspire more than a few in the process. Guetta’s footage of artists like Shepard Fairey dodging police in an effort to craft their not-quite-legal art and leave their mark on the city is fascinating and infectiously exhilarating. The film’s glimpse of a world not often seen is intoxicating, and incredibly interesting to see, especially when offering a previously unseen look into Banksy’s art process and studio.
Above all though, Exit Through The Gift shop is simply hilarious. Banksy is a surprisingly funny, self-deprecating guy, always on hand to offer a droll and incredibly funny comment on proceedings as he recounts the events of the film, while Thierra’s story is a bizarre and always amusing one to experience. Energetic, enlightening and engrossing, Banksy’s film is much like his art work – a humour-laced work of thought-provoking subversive genius.
On the DVD:
The disc that Revolver kindly sent along for review was a promotional screener without extras, so I can’t properly assess the extras and video/audio quality of the final release.
The DVD comes packed with fun extras, including a DIY sticker set and artwork, ‘unique 2D viewing glasses’, deleted scenes and outtakes, and two short films – ‘B Movie’, an exclusive short by Banksy and a second short documentary by Mr Brainwash/Guetta.
Exit Through The Gift Shop is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK now.