Sundance 2010 Review: EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
A Banksy Film
Editor's Note: Originally posted on January 31, 2010 at Sundance.
If you did not know who the street artist Banksy (whose real identity is unknown) was before EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, I encourage you to get introduced to this highly-intelligent artist whose craftiness takes his work to the level of subversive brilliance. If you were aware of Banksy, then you no doubt want to see everything by and with him, and you should not be disappointed.
By the time the credits roll on the clever and subtly layered EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, it is clear that, along with great street art, Banksy can also make a great documentary with his artistry transferring perfectly from graffiti to film. Banksy stays true to his overall vision as an artist (different medium, same effectiveness) with EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP.
In case you are not very familiar with street art, just to be clear, it consists of graffiti, prints, and other materials used to create a style of images that often appear on the side of buildings or on signs. Now that we got that covered, let us move on.
The film is presented as a documentary by Banksy made about Thierry Guetta, a man who attempted to make a documentary about street art, but ultimately ended up becoming the subject of a documentary instead of the author. EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP centers around Thierry Guetta. However, a major aspect of Guetta's personality fairly well-covered in the film is that he loved videotape life in general, then moved on to specifically street art. A lot of Guetta's footage of street art is featured in the film, and we see his obsession through his eyes and camera lens for around the first half of the film. The footage of street art in action--along with clips of several of the artists talking about their craft--allows the film to function as a documentary of street life to a significant degree, one of the several ways that makes the film fascinating.
Around the half-way point the film changes from featuring Guetta's footage and working as a street art doc, to focusing on capturing a task Banksy gives to Guetta-- which is to create his own street art. Why was he given this task? Well, after watching the awful documentary that Guetta makes, Banksy tells him it is time go and make his own street art. Banksy keeps Guetta busy while trying to salvage Guetta's original footage into something watchable, something Guetta clearly couldn't handle.
The film then goes from Guetta getting lost in capturing the street art world to Guetta's own street art career. He then takes on the pseudonym Mister Brainwash which really begins the film's subtle build of dead-on satire. Mister Brainwash's rise to considerable success is documented; even though his street art is lazy and a hack view of what is poignant and profound. The film captures this sentiment by showing how Guetta's first art show becomes about quantity and spectacle, and not heart or insight from the alleged artist. Yet it still had a great run with many sold out shows, with works of art selling for plenty of money .
In EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, you are able to hear the real artists and others with a significant street art background, comment on the Mister Brainwash situation; as well as thoughts by people who actually enjoyed the Mister Brainwash show, and think they can recognize great art. The show is a success, and having watched how it all came together, we have experienced how the spirit of art can get ruined by it's unfortunate bi-products achieving sickening poignancy.
There is a theory going around Sundance (where the film premiered) that there is more to the film than you might think. And without giving too much away, if this theory turns out to be real then the film enters an amazing realm and the cleverness of those behind the film goes platinum. But, whether or not, this suggested theory turns out to be fact, EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP is still an entertaining, smart success made by an exceptional artist, Banksy
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