Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Exit Through the Gift Shop And Get A Free Fridge Magnet

Exit Through the Gift Shop

How much of it was real? Should the film have even been nominated in the Best Documentary category if it was all false? Who is the film really laughing at? Is Banksy really the director of this film? These are just a few of the questions that have been bouncing around the internet since Exit Through the Gift Shop received its Academy Award nomination. To be honest, Exit Through the Gift Shop works best if you put aside all these questions. While others debate the film’s legitimacy, they seem to overlook one crucial fact…the film is immensely entertaining.

The film plays like a documentary within a documentary. Originally the film is set up to be about Thierry Guetta, a French shop keeper who is obsessed with videotaping every aspect of life and stumbles into the illegal world of street art. Through Guetta’s cousin, the artist known as Space Invader, Guetta and his camera are exposed to a side of the art world that few people ever see. Claiming that he plans to make a documentary of the art and artists, Guetta eventually gains access to many of the big names in the culture, including Shepard Fairery who would later become famous for his iconic Hope poster of Barack Obama. Yet in order for Guetta’s documentary to really take off he needs to get footage of the biggest name in the street art scene, the elusive Banksy. After finally tracking him down, Guetta and Banksy soon become good friends. Once it is revealed that Guetta never had any intention of making a documentary, Banksy turns the lens on Guetta to find out what is really going on in the mind of this eccentric fellow.

Regardless of whether or not the content in this film is real or staged, like Borat, this film was far funnier than I originally expected. Exit Through the Gift Shop’s strength is not only Guetta but how the other artists view him. At first they all have a fondness for his willingness to not only step into their world but also help them with the assembly of their pieces. This fondness eventually turns to bitterness and disbelief when Guetta assumes the alias Mr. Brainwash and becomes a successful artist himself. While the content is interesting in a comedic sort of way, I was really more interested in how Banksy creates his work. While the film gives us brief glimpses of Banksy’s repertoire, it would have been nice had the whole film just been about Banksy. Of course this would alter the film drastically.

Exit Through the Gift Shop at its heart is a film that looks at how absurd the world of art and film has become. The film itself is a commentary on the structure of modern documentaries. It also explores what people consider to be art? When Banksy states at the end of the film that he does not know who the joke is on anymore, it is very telling. Once considered cutting edge and daring, Banksy and his peers now hold star-studded gallery shows in Los Angeles. Their works are being sold in art actions around the world. Essentially they have all become part of the system they once rebelled against.

To emphasize how ludicrous it has gotten, Banksy uses the latter part of Exit Through the Gift Shop to chronical the, alleged, rise of Mr. Brainwash in the art scene. As Mr. Brainwash, Guetta is transformed from mere shop owner to the face of the new wave of Los Angeles artist. The funny thing is Mr. Brainwash’s success is more due to his smart sense of self-promotion rather than any artistic ability. Mr. Brainwash rarely creates his own art. Instead he takes pre-existing works of art and hires a team of artist to alter them for him. In one hilarious scene, Mr. Brainwash, after promising original prints to the first 200 people at his show, scrambles to spray paint some colour on 200 copies of the same image in order to call them “originals”. The fact that Mr. Brainwash becomes a huge success after one show, really forces everyone to question how much of art is actually valued on the art itself, and how much is it based on hype. In many ways the same thing can be said about Exit Through the Gift Shop and those who debate and write about films. Maybe the fact that those who do not create art, whether it is paintings or films, have so much to say on its value and importance is the biggest joke of all.


  1. The notion of becoming part of the same system the street artists were trying to create a counter-culture against is fascinating one. It's a notion that can be applied to almost anything, from music, to film, to even politics, which makes 'Exit Through the Gift Shop' all the more powerful.

  2. Excellent review,
    I thought this film was absolutely fascinating and well made. Easily my favourite documentary of last year and better than many films.
    I thought it summed up a movement and it's participants very well as well as being very entertaining.

  3. Loved it myself! Indeed a surprisingly entertaining movie once you put aside that initial skepticism. Now, it's always been a joke that art "experts" will become enamored with the most random thing but this film put it all together.

  4. I am not really a fan of documentaries if I am honest. I also am not convinced by Banksy. For many years I have been under the impression that BANKSY was just a name. It spread the globe and was used by many people to keep the mystery alive (I know I live in an odd world)

    After reading this review. It is now on my hit list and will hunt it down so I can see it.

    Thanks for the insight


  5. @Edgar – Very true. There comes a point when you realize that everyone eventually becomes part of the system.

    @Jack – I can honestly say that I have not laughed that hard watching a film in a while. I still need to catch up on a few more of the documentaries that have come out this year.

    @Castor – It was fascinating to see all these “experts” struggle to come up with something smart to say at Mr. Brainwashes show just so they can be seen as “hip.” I think that happens a lot in both the film and art world.

    @Custard – I think this is the perfect film for those who don’t normally like documentaries. I think it offers a nice mix of substance and entertainment that it should keep you interested. As for Banksy, I did not know much about him going into the film. Who knows, you might be right. Banksy could actually be the art world version of Alan Smithee...a name that others use when they want to keep their true identities hidden.

  6. I agree, this film was entertaining. And, it did surprise me that the focus was not on Banksy at all. I think it had a good message to share with the world for all aspiring artists alike. Good review, I enjoyed it!

  7. @Film Gurl - I am hoping that we will see an actual documentary mainly on Banksy in the near feature. He seems like such a fascinating individual.

  8. banksy is awesome, i hope he wins the oscar. what do you think about his chances?

  9. @Anonymous - It would be great to see Banksy walk off with the award but the Academy rarely awards comedic fare. There is a war film in that category that seems to have a better chance at winning. Fingers crossed though.


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