Exit Through The Gift Shop: A Film By Banksy
STARS: Thierry Guetta, Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Space Invader
THIS highly anticipated film by Banksy is not what many of us expected—especially if what you had in mind was something along the lines of the 1992 hip-hop documentary Style Wars. Though Exit Through The Gift Shop’s biggest draw is that it’s a documentary focused on established street artists and their craft, the film quickly becomes about the documentary-maker himself.
Thierry Guetta, a quirky French immigrant living in Los Angeles, develops a passion for filming and begins following his cousin, Space Invader, around France with a video camera in 1999. He is then introduced to Shepard Fairey when he arrives in LA, who allows him to document his activities as well. This is the catalyst for Guetta’s burgeoning obsession.
Guetta, fascinated with this art, begins to appreciate the worlds of talent each street artist has to offer. Cinematically, the shots are amazing, and Guetta goes to any length to get them.
In a sense, the movie achieves early on what it set out to do—the viewer gets a genuine glimpse into the trials of street artists, who have to endure so much just to ‘showcase’ their work, and it becomes apparent that their skill, their drive and their passion for art is just as innocent and stable as any gallery artist’s.
For the uninitiated, Banksy is a secretive British graffiti artist and probably the most well-known contemporary street artist. His work often has a political statement or social commentary bent to it, and he has caused much controversy in his time with the subjects he’s chosen to address.
In Exit…, Banksy—filmed in darkness and with his voice altered—meets Guetta in LA and befriends him. Banksy opens his studio to Guetta and convinces him to put down the video camera and instead work on his art. So Guetta becomes MBW (Mr. Brain Wash). Though his “art” is a blatant imitation of the work by his previous subjects, it’s Guetta whose pieces rake in thousands of dollars and are celebrated with sell-out shows.
There has been debate about whether the film is a hoax, and whether the Banksy featured here is even the real deal. Some also say the film proves how consumed we are with the celebrity lifestyle, and how desperate we are to be validated by society. Conjecture aside, what was meant to be a documentary on Bansky and street art became a film about a man who abused his connections, friends, family and passion, all for the hype.