Directed by: Banksy
Starring: Banksy, Rhys Ifans, Thierry Guetta
Ever since the hip-hop culture of the 1970s, “street art” has continued to make a lasting impact on the art world as a whole, spawning countless (and mostly faceless) individuals who quite literally risk their lives to both establish a name for themselves and make sure their artistic intentions are fully realized by those who matter the most. For the past decade, there’s a chance you couldn’t even utter the word “graffiti” without someone mentioning the almighty and infinitely mysterious Banksy. Never once making a public appearance and hiding his identity from even his fellow street artists, it’s easy to realize how big a deal anything with his name tied to it outside of an artwork really is, Exit Through the Gift Shop especially. Originally meant to document what had never been documented before, French “filmmaker” Thierry Guetta set out to capture what would assuredly turn the art world upside down, that is, until Banksy took it upon himself to make a film about Guetta instead, with surprising results.
Exit Through the Gift Shop is essentially two films rolled into one bizarre masterpiece. While the first two-thirds of this so-called documentary sets out to chronicle one Thierry Guetta and his desire to film just about everything he sees, street art and its avid practitioners notably, the latter act essentially turns into a full-out commentary on what should be recognized as true art and what most definitely shouldn’t, but in the most subtly humorous way possible. As for the former, the footage Guetta compiled over his years and years of following renowned artists such as Invader, Shepard Fairey and even Banksy himself really does offer some tremendously valuable insight into the creative thought process each supports, how important art is to them on a personal level and how immensely popular street art’s become.
While just about all of the footage in question is fascinating in its own right, anything that showcases Banksy and Banksy alone is essentially what I found most engrossing about the entire production. Seeing as how actual interviews with the man, let alone filmed instances of him physically plastering his work up in cities around the world are incredibly scarce, one would naturally share sentiments similar to my own providing you’re relatively in touch with the art world. As entertaining as these sequences are though and despite Banksy’s (mostly) valid reasoning behind letting someone as out of touch as Guetta be the first to do something this extraordinary, it all merely serves as a setup for the underlying message our fabled director conveys via Exit Through the Gift Shop‘s puzzling and hilarious final act.
Without giving too much away, this is where the film’s intentions become a tad muddled, but what the shift in focus from actual artist to self-proclaimed artist does is inform of us what art was never supposed to be about: the money. Even though Banksy’s work has been the focus of several heavily publicized exhibitions over the past decade, it’s easy to see that his intentions were to merely let everyone have a glimpse at what he has to offer within the world of modern art by way of expression, garnering a hefty amount of fame in the process. Guetta on the other hand is then perceived as clueless, mindlessly mashing together the styles of famous artists past and present to create something he assumes people will enjoy and subsequently buy at astronomical prices. Relying on the fame of those he once followed, video camera in hand, Guetta seems to care only about how grandiose his garish abomination of a gallery opening will be, thus showing us the difference between a true artist and a resounding fraud that merely appeals to those who don’t know any better.
As both an incredibly in-depth look at the underground world of street art and a statement about what art’s truly all about, Exit Through the Gift Shop is one exemplary piece of filmmaking. Whether or not director Banksy’s intentions were to poke fun at his subject, the film still remains fascinating in all of the areas I’ve outlined, regardless of what one may think of my interpretive ramblings. So, if you’ve ever exhibited any sort of interest in street art, or even just appreciate a solid documentary every now and then, Exit Through the Gift Shop stands tall as a humorous, insightful and all-around wonderful effort that may not appeal to all, but will surely appeal to most.