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.
Exit Through the Gift Shop by pseudonymous UK street artist and situationist Banksy – whose iconic and ludicrous work rewrites the brands, slogans and symbols of cultural and ethical ideologies – is indeed rather a portrait of street-art fan and witness, Thierry Guetta. The film uses an accumulation of almost ten years of ‘behind-the-scenes’ and ‘on-therooftop’ B-roll footage of illegal street artists, shot entirely by Guetta himself. We watch as with cunning slapstick comedy, fumbling public-space invaders become black-clad ninjas, turning the precarious streets of Los Angeles into satirical gallery spaces.
Through thierry’s camcorder, we’re allowed access to the Banksy studio where it’s clear that Banksy is indeed not just one man, but a collective of construction workers and studio assistants. It’s also Guetta’s relationship to Banksy, and the way in which his history plays out in the film, which lights the stage for a larger debate about street-art intentions, the making of an art star, and whether or not the art world is conspiring to play an epic joke on its consumers and critics.
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