Exit Through the Gift Shop directed by Banksy (Paranoid Pictures, Revolver Entertainment, R, 87 minutes)

Starring: Thierry Guetta, Banksy, Shepherd Fairey, Invader

Graffiti as Art 

You’re walking down the street and suddenly you see something—graffiti. If you live in any major city, you’ve seen it, and they are not that pretty. They are normally some gang insignias or autographs marking territory; they are something you ignore. Perhaps they are something you hate to see, or something that is vulgar and repulsive.

What would happen if the graffiti were beautiful? You would stop and look at it in awe, and hopefully it would make you think. This is the beginning of the street art phenomena. The documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop, follows figures such as Banksy (who also directed the film), as well as a nobody-film-maker-turned-street-artist, whose street name is Mister Brain Wash.

The Film Maker 

Thierry Guetta is a French immigrant living in L.A. and he makes a pretty decent living running a vintage clothing shop. But, his first love is for film. He films everything, including his cousin, “Invader”, who is an internationally known street artist. Invader tags property with tile art of space invaders (from the video game). Guetta unknowingly stumbled upon and filmed something big: the rise of street art.

Guetta also documents Shepard Fairey—an artist best known for his depictions of Andre the Giant and the Obama campaign poster of 2008—under the auspices that he is filming a documentary on the rise of street art, though all he is doing is filming street artists and throwing the film into unlabeled boxes. Finally, he is introduced to the hero of street art, a man known as Banksy.

Banksy by Oscilloscope Laboratories

The Venerated Artist 

Banksy is a prominent and secretive street artist who, at the time of filming, was preparing a show called “Barely Legal” in Skid Row in L.A. Thinking that street art is not a long-lasting phenomenon and is usually destroyed soon after completing it, Banksy sees an opportunity and has Guetta film his work as well as his show “Barely Legal”. So he gives Guetta the assignment of creating a documentary of all his film, one that tells the history of the street art movement. The result is a film entitled Life Remote Control, which is the biggest piece of garbage ever viewed. It’s a 90-minute schizophrenic film with seemingly random themes, and Banksy decides it’s unwatchable, and the Guetta might be certifiably crazy. So, Banksy takes a turn producing it into a documentary (Exit Through the Gift Shop) and gives Guetta an assignment to keep him busy: he is to produce his own street art.

Art Defiled

Guetta decides to name himself MBW, or Mister Brain Wash (for those wondering, yes, brainwash is normally one word). Mr. Brain Wash, then, re-mortgages his business, rents copious amounts of printing supplies, and hires people to design his ideas. He then produces a show, called “Life is Beautiful” and holds it in a former CBS studio.

The show was a success, despite the fact that he copied works of other people (street artists and famous pop-artists like Andy Warhol), and can’t even describe the meaning of his art to others. Banksy and the street art community are outraged, as Brain Wash skipped a step. He never took the time to establish himself, work hard, and create art that actually meant something. Rather, he just made it happen in some defiled non-artistic way. It’s sad that someone can create “art” without really trying and understanding what they create.

The Controversy

Photo by Trois Tetes

This film has only succeeded in making Brain Wash look horrible, and Banksy and Shepherd Fairy look like street art heroes. And, Guetta’s cousin, Invader, doesn’t even talk to him any more. Many critics, however, think that Mr. Brain Wash doesn’t exist and the whole movie was shot by Banksy, even though Banksy himself denies it. Regardless of the controversy that exists about this film, when one compares the artwork alone, one is led to this truth: something is wrong with culture’s relationship to art. Should you view this film, don’t get distracted by the controversy—the point of the film is that art has to have a mysterious combination of quality and individualism. Hype elevates what is not quality, and it’s a dangerous place to go with art. It takes time to develop a voice. Just copying and succeeding through hype alone cannot constitute art.

This move really says more about culture than it says about Guetta or even Banksy.

I sincerely recommend Exit Through the Gift Shop, and I think anyone will enjoy it. You can decide for yourself if you think Guetta is a villain for how he has made a living on his “art”.

Verdict: 4 out of 5

Posted by: Andrew Jacobson
Alternate Views: This Too Is Meaningless
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2 Comments Leave a comment
  • Ben

    Man, I love this movie so bad that I own it in DVD now. A bunch of creative juggernauts on a rampage. Nothing is spared, not even this movie. At first you think Thierry Guetta is doing a documentary on Banksy, but then suddenly it's Banksy doing a documentary on Thierry Guetta.

    EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP is what Chuck Klosterman would refer to as “Advanced”. It was one of my favorite movies of 2010.

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