Exit Through the Gift Shop
2010, R, 87 min. Directed by Banksy. Narrated by Rhys Ifans.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., May 14, 2010
Documentary? Artwork? Puzzle? Prank? Social commentary? This film by the internationally renowned British graffiti artist known only by his nom de plume Banksy is, indeed, all of the above. The film’s multiplicity of entry points and takeaways is part of what makes it such a hot commodity among viewers. And don’t doubt for a second that Banksy’s film is a commodity, too, as clearly implied by the sardonic title. Banksy’s work has always been marked by its politicized edge, one that mocks, criticizes, and inverts the status quo. With Exit Through the Gift Shop, the outlaw street artist makes a stunning debut into the world of film. The film intrigues and baffles at the same time, and lingering questions about its origins, along with its inherently subversive spirit, should keep filmgoers poring over it for some time to come. Ostensibly, Banksy’s film is a portrait of Frenchman Thierry Guetta, a Los Angeles resident, businessman, family man, and inveterate videographer. Guetta records everything around him, and when he discovers that his cousin is the graffiti artist known as Space Invader, Guetta begins accompanying him on nighttime forays to post his art on suitable walls. He records everything and continues to meet more street artists, including the well-known Shepard Fairey, by chance, at a Kinko’s. Guetta tells everyone that he is making a documentary, but years go by and all Guetta does is toss hundreds of uncatalogued tapes into unmarked plastic bins. He is an enthusiastic if naive compatriot of these artists, and after a while, he is invited to capture Banksy in action. Banksy appears in the film wearing a hoodie that cloaks his face and speaking through a digital voice disguiser. Eventually, Banksy sends Guetta back to L.A. to actually make the documentary, but once Guetta finally does and shows the outcome to Banksy, it’s clear that the film is a disaster. Banksy again sends Guetta back to L.A., this time with the directive to make his own art while Banksy takes a shot at re-editing the footage. Much of the rest of the film is devoted to Guetta’s gargantuan art effort, which reveals him to be an extremely derivative and uninspired artist but an amazing showman nevertheless, one who clears a million dollars in sales during his chaotic show’s opening week. So, what is real and what’s made up in Exit Through the Gift Shop? How much of what we learn about Guetta is true and how much is Banksy’s concoction? It’s endlessly arguable and open for debate. At the very least, we can all agree that Banksy has found a new wall on which to plaster his art – that of the silver screen.