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Exit through the gift shop, a review Banksy's movie.

Updated on June 19, 2010

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Exit Through the Gift Shop

Exit Through the Gift Shop is an unusual documentary filled with a cast of fascinating characters.  There is the world renowned street artist, Banksy, who has taken it upon himself to chronicle the lives of various street artists.  There is a seemingly limitless parade of these street artists, whose graffiti and stenciled works (as well as their commentary) figure prominently in the film.  And then there is Thierry Guetta, an extremely likable French man whose passion moves from video taping everyday events obsessively, to following the street artists of Los Angeles with the same passion; to ultimately creating art himself.

At the very beginning of the film we get an intimate look at Mr. Guetta's life, seeing him, his wife and children at various times of the day doing various things.  There is a snappy narrative, spoken by Rhys Ifans, as well as punctuating commentary from Banksy, that keeps the movie moving along at all times.  Quickly we see that Mr. Guetta is a shutterbug of the highest order, taking his beloved camera with him to document every aspect of life.  Nobody would ever have seen any of his tapes, if it weren't that his cousin, whose goes by the pseudonym Space Invader, is an accomplished street artist and allowed Mr. Guetta to tag along with him and video tape the his replicas of the space invaders from the video game of the same name.  Seeing this art being created and installed is the first look we get into the adrenaline fueled world of a street artist.  From Mr. Guetta's constant involvement with Space Invader's creative process he ends up meeting Shepard Fairey, and dozens of other street artists. 

The early part of the film is a tour-de-force of the works of these various artists, and it is the relationship between Mr. Fairey and Mr. Guetta that causes Mr. Guetta to wind up meeting and assisting Banksy to deploy his stencils, in much the same way Mr. Guetta had assisted other street artists in Los Angeles: by videotaping him at work.  While a lot of emphasis is placed on viewing the creation and installation of different artist's work, it is the interpersonal aspects and exploration of Mr. Guetta's character that drives the film.

And what a character he is!  First he ingratiates himself into Banksy's service as a film-maker, next he doesn't break when interrogated by the police; and finally he doesn't hesitate when Banksy asks him to edit a film from the video tapes he's amassed.  The only problem is, he isn't a film-maker at all!  Mr. Guetta cobbles together 90 minutes of strangely juxtaposed 6 second clips and gives it Banksy.  And so Banksy must create something from the treasure trove of tapes himself.  The movie might had ended there, had Banksy not suggested to Mr. Guetta that he "have a little art show" and "open a few bottles of Champaign".  Some people might have felt blown off by Banksy then, or gone back to Los Angeles with their tail between their legs.  Or they might have taken the advice at face value and deepened their personal commitment to craft and art itself.  Mr. Guetta re-invents himself as Mister Brainwash, mortgages his business, sells everything that isn't bolted down and proceeds to run himself and an entourage of assistants to the edge of physical endurance in an effort to create a show as iconic as the one he saw Banksy put together in Los Angeles the year before.

While what Mister Brainwash produces is now for sale to the world, and in fact the musical artist Madonna has hired him to produce the cover art for her album "Celebration", the film begs the question what is art?  If a young man from England can get his art into the permenant collection of the Modern Museum of Art in New York by clandestinely hanging it on a wall there; if an elephant covered in face paint is considered art; if stealing and reconfiguring a phone booth is art; well in that case, surely what Mister Brainwash has created is art.  And in his defense, he's made more money at it in the last year than most artists will in their lifetimes. 

But is it art?  You'll just have to go see the movie to decide.


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