Exit Through The Gift Shop
UK/USA, 2009, 86 min
Banksy is renowned for producing iconic street art and fiercely guarding his identity to avoid prosecution. It’s surprising then, that he was willing to be filmed by an eccentric French shopowner named Thierry Guetta. Exit Through The Gift Shop traces Thierry’s attempts to capture the world of graffiti art in compelling detail, following many of the best-known vandals at work on the streets. We trace Thierry’s efforts to locate and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner – with spectacular results. An incendiary true story of low-level criminality, companionship and incompetence.
When the reality of documentary cinema seems almost too close to the paradisiacal fluff of fiction – in dramatic plot, character arch, cunning humour, self-reflection, life lesson, and general musings on how the subject reflects life and life reflects the subject in an ironic equilibrium – chances are it could be fiction, or at the very least, fictionalized.
And if it cannot be proved artifice, then let such astute filmmaking be considered the result of cosmic law, where all elements align to provide – in the case of Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop – the most comprehensive character study of an artist. In turn, it tells the most consummate story of the nature of art itself. Forgery or fact? Symbolized value or devalued symbols? The same principles apply to subversive street-art creation and filmmaking alike.If the final product feels good, and is both intellectual and amusing, then who’s going to make a fuss? So how does the world’s most infamous and incognito artist make a documentary about himself? By making “a film about a man who tried to make a film about me,” says Banksy.