Exit Through The Gift Shop

23 Jan

Director: Banksy (2010)

Having worked in arts PR for a while now I have come to learn a little something about street artists in that they tend not to enjoy the hype, like to merge into the background, leaving their renown and celebrity to grace the walls whether they be on the street or in a gallery.

So far removed from the 80s pastiches of spray cans and tags by baggy-jeaned skateboarders, today’s urban art scene is fast becoming one of the most profitable in contemporary art – much of this reinvigoration has been attributed to Bristolian enigma, Banksy. However, Banksy’s fame pretty much disproves my previous statements about the celebrity desires of the street artists. While his identity may be shrouded in secrecy, his images have become iconic, his style and influence spreading around the globe from street corners in Bristol to Israel’s West Bank, gracing stationary, posters and greeting cards. While the more traditionally subdued street artists may have referred to Banksy as something of a sell out, his art does still seem to trump his difficult reputation. It was only really a matter of time before he branched out into film.

While you may be forgiven for thinking I am a Banksy-hater, I actually do love his work and so was intrigued to see his documentary, Exit Through The Gift Shop, if anything for the tag line alone: “The World’s first Street Art disaster movie”.

The film follows the life of eccentric French immigrant Thierry Guetta whose obsession with filming and street art takes him to Los Angeles. His obsession began upon discovering his cousin was Invader, an infamous street artist whose mosaic images of Space Invaders have surreptitiously spread from his resident Paris to over 31 cities around the world. The film focuses on Shephard Fairey who takes a shine to Guetta, letting him become his accomplice on his guerrilla installations of his famous OBEY images.

Thierry’s footage is fascinating, finally giving us an insight into the obscured world of a street artist, illuminated by the street lamp and how a crazy Frenchman’s camera. He accumulates thousands of hours of footage of the world’s best street artists; Sweet Toof, Cyclops, Ron English, Dotmasters, Swoon, all under the impression that Guetta’s filming is going to be made into a documentary…

As his footage piles up, Guetta continues to hear more about this infamous Banksy until finally he is introduced by Fairey in LA. Finally he has met his man, becoming Banksy’s guide in LA to find the best sites for work and also handily filming his process and giving street art a much needed prolonged shelf life on celluloid, including capturing his now infamous Barely Legal show on Skid Row. Banksy begins to push Thierry to finish editing the film – the film Thierry had had no intention of making – but encouraged by his new idol, he obliges, creating a film that worryingly resembled a feature length skate film my ex-boyfriend made when he was 17. Translation – horrendous.

Perhaps in attempt to spare his feelings, Banksy advises Thierry to make his own art show… Clearly Banksy had been inhaling too much aerosol for all these years, creating a monster in the shape of Mr Brainwash who becomes an overnight zeitgeist of street art. Forming a factory of minions producing obscene amounts of prints and designs, startlingly similar to the artists he has been following around for the past years, making equally obscene amounts of money.

To his credit, Banksy took the high road by making this documentary instead of suing Mr Brainwash’s ass. There’s no denying his footage was incredible, but likewise there is no denying that ripping off your mate’s work and lying to them about filming them is a tad suspect.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is a torch held up against a piece of art, illuminating both its beauty and its flaws allowing a rare insight into the street artists world and their creative (and business) process. And if anything else, it is worth watching to hear Banksy’s distorted voice merge increasingly more into the realm of Batman… Having said that – has anyone ever seen Banksy and Batman in the same room together? Just a thought….

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