Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Uncategorized Exit Through the Gift Shop

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Rated R | 87 min. | Director: Banksy 

“I don’t know how to play chess, but life is like a chess game to me.” Those are the words of French-born obsessive videographer, turned street artist, turned commercial art sell-out Thiery Guetta. Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary, that according to its director Banksy (an infamous British street artist) was primarily supposed to be about the world of underground street art (focusing on Banksy), but eventually turned into a film about Guetta’s bizarre journey into art stardom as the street artist “Mr. Brainwash”. According to Banksy, Guetta was just more interesting. 

The film begins following Guetta around as he obsessively records various street artists in Los Angeles and just about every other moment of his life, including some touching moments with his family. He eventually meets Shepard Fairey (who is famous for creating the Andre the Giant “OBEY” image, if you don’t know what that is you probably have never been to a major city in the United States) and we witness entertaining scene after scene of the duo plastering the famous Andre image all around the world. At this point, Guetta seems like a genuine part of the underground art movement, desperately wanting to document something he loved. He eventually meets Banksy, who is the creme de la creme of street artists. Guetta follows Banksy much like he followed Fairey, but the jobs become more high-profile, including one dangerous caper where Banksy places a blow-up doll dressed as a Guantanamo Bay prisoner is Disney Land.

For years Guetta promised everyone he had been filming a definitive documentary on street art. However, unbeknown-st to them, Guetta had no concept of organizing his footage and had no clue how to make a film. After Banksy tasks Guetta to make the documentary, Guetta produced what looked like (paraphrasing Banksy) a psychopath flipping through a thousand cable channels. At this point Guetta seemed to put away his video camera and focus on his own street art. Also, the film highlights that work from street artists like Banksy were now being sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. What began as a movement became extremely profitable. In a way, the medium lost its innocence.

The film brilliantly juxtaposes the commercialization of street art with the complete selling-out of Guetta. Guetta adopts the alter-ego of “Mr. Brainwash” and attempts to put on a gigantic art exhibit in Los Angeles. Guetta’s art lacks imagination and substance, to say the least. However, the show (and “Mr. Brainwash” himself) are brilliantly marketed and both are a huge success. Guetta’s art is a kind of post-post-modernism. Whereas post-modern artists like Andy Warhol would repeat something until it lost its meaning, Guetta would repeat something that originally had no meaning until it didn’t lose the meaning it never had, and would leave any rational human being thinking, “someone paid $20,000 for THAT?” At the end, Banksy clearly (and hilariously) shows his frustration with “Mr. Brainwash”, however I couldn’t help but feel Banksy turning guerrilla art into a big business was partially responsible for Guetta’s success.

It must be said that there is a bit of “Blair Witch” element to this film. Many people have accused Guetta and Banksy of being in cahoots. The claim is that this film is just another ruse by Banksy, and Banksy is not just one artist, but several artists including Guetta and possibly Fairey. I’m not sure and I don’t think I really care. This documentary was immensely entertaining and the best one I’ve seen so far in 2010.

1 thought on “Exit Through the Gift Shop”

  1. I agree wholeheartedly that this was one of the best “documentaries” of 2010. However, I also get the feeling that the movie itself is an artistic creation by Banksy- as you have pointed out as a possibility towards the end of your review, even if some of my friends who’ve seen the film would disagree.
    Overall, though, I get the impression that this kind of discussion is one of the aims of Banksy as Director- another possibility being that Thierry was really following the street artists in reality, and then used by Banksy to create ‘Mr Brainwash’. Therefore, the first two third’s of the movie is a conventional documentary, with the final third actually staged by those involved. Another pointer being the continuation of filming by an unnamed person after Guetta downs his camera.
    Anyways, it got me thinking and talking more than many a movie I’ve seen recently!

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