Documentary of the Day – Exit Through The Gift Shop

I am not one for art, well still/performance art, but I do considering film to be art so I like film more than traditional art.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate art, I mean I took several classes in college over art, have friends who are artists and generally enjoy the occasional gallery showing.  I will say, that I am not how movies portray art crowds, with a lot of black clothing and quasi-intellectuals being all hipstery and un-ironic while chewing on their chunky glasses.  I mean I have chunky glasses, but that is more so because the shape of my face is framed nicely by them, not because I need them since all the other cool/uncool kids have them.  Wire frames on glasses are not my thing.

Anyways, what I am getting at here with all of this is my general issue with art, particularly modern art.  Some will say that I am just some simpleton who doesn’t get it, but in reality, I don’t think they get it.  It seems like a fade to immediately dismiss someone who isn’t a fan of that style as not getting, while seeming to look cool by going against the grain.  So while I am unfamiliar with the movement of street art, mainly by choice and the fact that I think an artist just reusing the image of Andre the Giant (Shepard Fairey) over and over again on different locations doesn’t seem necessarily exciting.  I am sure that there is a subtext to the “Obey” image, but I just think about watching Princess Bride again to see Andre the Giant.  So if there is one thing that my time here on Earth has proven to me is that there is one universal thing that everyone likes, particularly white people, is that everyone loves Banksy.  So my excitement is at a fever pitch to see a film directed/not directed by him, but I am most excited since we can view street art the hype surrounding it through a lens.

This is the inside story of Street Art – a brutal and revealing account of what happens when fame, money and vandalism collide. Exit Through the Gift Shop follows an eccentric shop-keeper turned amateur film-maker as he attempts to capture many of the world’s most infamous vandals on camera, only to have a British stencil artist named Banksy turn the camcorder back on its owner with wildly unexpected results.

One of the most provocative films about art ever made, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a fascinating study
of low-level criminality, comradeship and incompetence.  By turns shocking, hilarious and absurd, this is an
enthralling modern-day fairytale… with bolt cutters.  (official site)

I don’t want to dive too much into the story since this is an incredibly fascinating work of filmmaking.  Banksy and Mr. Brainwash find a way to blur this line between documentary and mockumentary, continuously crossing this line that wants to be authentic, but also poking fun at the subject matter.  At its heart, Exit Through The Gift Shop is a performance piece in its own right.  It challenges the notion of what constitutes art and how commercialism plays a particular part in whether it is good or not.

I think the biggest questions is whether this rouge, pop culture driven style of art is really art.  Does taking a well known image and drawing a mustache on it constitute some sort of ground breaking take on the medium or just a means to show how easily people can be convinced what is art by having it vandalized on the side of a wall?  The “documentary” (in quotes because there is some questions about how real this is) utilizes the subject of Thierry Guetta or Mr. Brainwash as he transforms into during the third act of the film, as a sort of performance piece.  Banksy took Guetta’s film and made him the star.  Building up that confidence to start finding his muse or style, go out there and make a mark, but then becomes something more than just a street artist.

The films strength is this nagging rumor that Mr. Brainwash is nothing more than a Banksy performance piece.  It’s interesting to watch Guetta, turn into what the street artists believe to be the opposite of what they are doing.  Guetta becomes concerned more with his name and fame than art itself, as evident by his lack of actual art that takes place by him.  In fact, he even states that he more or less, just uses Photoshop and scans images that his assistant and designer then manipulate to give it some semblance of uniqueness.  There in lies the issue that the film tackles.  Mr. Brainwash only focuses on the fame rather than the art and builds up the hype to everyone that will listen and even stealing certain artistic styles from other street artists.  So the question is, what the hell is art?  Does it have any meaning anymore when a person can use existing images and slightly modify it and call it art?  Does it cheapen the movement that is concerned with making a cultural statement?  Does the hype and commercialism warrant greatness in the art world?

Exit Through The Gift Shop plays out like Banksy is the puppeteer and Guetta is the puppet that is used to make a point about art.  The people who line up for blocks to get a glimpse at the latest street, pop culture art, really know what art is or is it just a familiar hype that they are accustomed to being apart of that gets them to see the gallery?  Can people be easily swayed and made to think what is good art?  The film raises more questions than it does answers, but it plays the situation off perfectly.  It’s a documentary that is almost too good to be true.  Both having the ability to subversively discuss what constitutes art, but also capturing art in its essence through video footage of other artists and the buildup up Mr. Brainwash.  Whether a fabrication or real, the documentary does manage to toy with the notion of art by making a documentary that gets us to think about what we are seeing and if it can be taken at face value.  The title is a nice little play on the notion of the rampant commercialism of art and how people value it.

Check out the film on Netflix Streaming and watch an interesting, Oscar nominated film play out like a surreal, performance art piece.  Draw your own conclusion if you will.

*images via RottenTomatoes

About Nick
I am just another blogger putting his thoughts into a website. My love is movies so most of my musings will be movie related. I work as an online marketer for an advertising company and when I am not earning a paycheck, I moonlight as a vigilante film blogger.

One Response to Documentary of the Day – Exit Through The Gift Shop

  1. Pete says:

    Brilliant film. Great write-up!

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