Thursday, March 17, 2011

Exit Through The Gift Shop

Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy, 2010) Brilliant little nested doll of a documentary from acclaimed (and anonymous) "street artist" Banksy, making a film about the guy who was making a film about him...and, frankly, coming up with a more compelling—and cautionary—story...done with a rueful humor and wise self-examination.

But, it doesn't start out that way. One man's vandalism is another man's "art." And as Banksy spins the tale, fully acknowledging that the genre falls in "the legal gray area," one sees graffiti artists risking life and limb to express themselves on somebody else's canvas, then having to beat feet before the cops show up. It is art under pressure, having to be done as quickly as possible—pre-designed and its application created as quick as possible under duress. The motivations of these spray-can Picasso's are never questioned, their results never examined. They simply exist as a phenomenon and something of worth.
Enter the guy making a film about Banksy. He's Thierry Guetta, French emigre, living in L.A. who runs a vintage clothes shop, where he charges outrageous prices for people's castaways—there's a theme her already. A traumatic event in his childhood makes Guetta fixate on documenting everything in his life the moment he first puts a video camera in his hand. He becomes obsessed documenting his family, his journeys, everything...amassing a considerable amount of tape, but, like a drawer full of snap-shots, never categorizing it. Filming a cousin who's a street artist imprints another in a series of obsessions onto Guetta: filming street-artists at work, combining their art with the drama of getting caught in the act. He becomes compelled to document the work, with the hope to make a film, but never really getting around to it. What Guetta is good at getting raw data, not turning it into something, and it is at this point, he meets Bristol's famous street artist, Banksy.
What emerges is a cautionary tale of encouraging someone who is constantly
"becoming" into finding an end-point, especially someone with delusions of grandeur and a con-artists' soul in a milieu in which hype is the gold standard and "value" is on a sliding scale determined by the gullible. Especially "value" in an art-form that its practitioners admit is only temporary.

One begins questioning the values espoused, only to feel a certain amount of amused regret when the espousers are made aware that their fashion may be "The Emperor's New Clothes." As one of the artist reps says at one point, "I'm not sure who the joke's on. I'm not sure there is a joke."

One thing is certain: Exit Through the Gift Shop is a great documentary, whether, as some have accused (to the consternation of the producers), it is "staged" or not. It manages to make its points abundantly clear, while not really condemning the participants. It's smart, frequently funny, sometimes painful and ultimately, very wise.

File it in your video collection next to Welles' F for Fake under "W" for "Worth."

Banksy's tough-love opening for "The Simpsons"

1 comment:

The Mad Hatter said...

I'm still mesmerized by this film and the amount of conversation it has sparked. No matter what one thinks of its authenticity, ya gotta love the way that Banksy found a whole new canvas to express himself with.