Review: Exit Through The Gift Shop

maxwell barna looks at the controversial documentary, which won the Independent Spirit Award for best documentary and was just nominated for an Oscar …

So as I sat back and watched the annual shit-show that is the Oscars, I almost fell from my chair when I heard that the documentary by graff-writer-turned-filmmaker Banksy, Exit Through The Gift Shop, was up for an award. Not because the film wasn’t worth such prestigious recognition, but because of what it could mean for the overall impact of the documentary. You’ll know what I mean by the end of this …

I’d like to preface this review with a small but extremely necessary summary of the film.

In a nutshell and without giving away too much of the meat on the theatrical bones, the documentary chronicles the transition of a man, Thierry Guetta, from a married vintage clothing store owner, father of two, and obsessive compulsive videographer living in L.A., to an internationally known street art superstar.

On a family trip to France in the late ’90s, Guetta discovers that his cousin is the famous street artist, Space Invader. Guetta becomes obsessed with street art and, after working his way into the scene and up the ladder, gets the opportunity to follow and film his most sought after subject, the mysterious and elusive man of mystery, Banksy. But after it turns out that Guetta was just a nut with a camera rather than a documentary filmmaker, Banksy convinces him to, in what is referred to in the film as “a direct order,” to return home to hone his street art abilities.

In a series of mindfucks and unexpected twists, Guetta manages to crawl (or strut victoriously, really … perhaps laugh?) all the way to both the top the street art world and the bank.

Now, there are four general approaches to this film, and each combination of them leads to a different analysis.

The first two approaches are taken by two different types of people. These are people who write graffiti or make street art, and those who just like to look at it. People who write graffiti are more than likely extremely upset by this film because it is a real life demonstration that one doesn’t have to have talent or really be an artist at all to be a marketable “street artist.” All one needs are deep pockets and connections. The other type of people, those who are either into the art collecting game or simply casual fans of it, are typically impressed by the film and probably considered it to be some kind of motivational “you can do whatever you set your mind to” type shit. If you don’t believe me, feel free to read some of the reviews about the film on Amazon.

The second two approaches are of a far greater value to the overall interpretation of the documentary. It’s important to understand that this film is extremely perplexing. Internet forums, blogs and websites have been flooded with rumors and speculation about the film because people don’t exactly know what to make of it. And by that, I mean that this shit is so unbelievable that people have developed a theory that it is fake, even despite sworn testimony that it isn’t given by Shepard Fairey, the guerilla street artist responsible for the “OBEY” craze and a prominent person featured throughout the film.

However, it appears as though Banksy’s fans know better. We are, after all, talking about the modern art man of mystery here; the man so infamous for playing jokes and having the last laugh, that a self deprecating and provocative mockumentary wouldn’t be at all out of his artistic field of vision.

So taking this all into account, the formula for the film’s interpretation is simple: If the documentary is real, graff heads should absolutely despise it and consider it a theatrical slap in the face. But casual art fans should eat the shit up, just as they have been. I’ll neither confirm nor deny that I myself have dabbled in the dark arts, but I will say publicly that this film did nothing short of boiling my blood when I first sat through it.

However, if the documentary is a hoax, then Banksy is a flat-out genius. The graff heads win, and all the pretentious, wealthy, modern art snobs lose — big time. If the documentary proves to be a hoax, then it serves nothing more than to demonstrate how vulnerable and gullible the art world is and how “modern art” is nothing but a fucking gimmick. All’s well that ends well, really.

I hope with every bone in my body Exit Through The Gift Shop is a hoax because it would debatably be one of our generation’s best and most expansive pranks of all time. It will have almost fooled the people of the Academy.

But until the definitive truth comes out, we can only continue to speculate.