Sunday, December 12, 2010
Exit Through the Gift Shop ***
What better way to explore what makes something "art" than with a film that itself is questioned for its artistic merits. Such is the premise of Exit Through the Gift Shop the documentary debut feature of iconic street artist Banksy.
His film concentrates on the rise of Mr. Brainwash, a street artist who made a name for himself out of the blue and has been hailed by the press and media for his refreshing of pop art.
When we first meet Brainwash, he goes by the name of Thierry Guetta. He's a French immigrant trying to make a living by selling old clothes at vintage prices.
Obsessed with recording everything with his video camera, Guetta becomes fascinated by street art and soon begins to make a documentary on the rising art form by traveling all over the world and meeting people like Shepard Fairey (of the famous Obama "Hope" poster).
Soon Thierry realizes he's missing the big one in his documentary and sets on finding the reclusive Banksy. He succeeds and develops a work relationship with the artist who suggests Thierry dedicates to art making and leaves the documentary in his hands.
With this simple twist, as one art form replaces another we can begin to ponder on the nature of what makes this movie a documentary.
Banksy is known not only for his stunning graffiti but also for being one of the biggest public pranksters in the world and everything about his debut film seems too good to be true.
How do we know for starters if the movie is even being made by him when nobody in the world knows his real identity?
When we see him here it's only from the back or in shadows using an altered voice. How do we know if this is the real work of Banksy when in the film he inspires Thierry to emulate his art.
The film explores this notions of fake and worth using techniques that remind us of a mockumentary minus the winks. We might say this is also a trait of Bansky's work and use it in his favor to attribute this work to him completely.
If the film is a hoax then Thierry Guetta has got to be one of the most fascinating fictitious creations in recent film history. Watching him in action is seeing someone so uniquely strange that we can't really bring ourselves to believe he's a fake. After all haven't we been trained to believe reality is usually stranger than fiction?
If he's in fact a character then we are witnessing work by an actor that could easily leave Paul Giamatti out of a job as the go-to-guy for down to Earth quirkiness.
That he's described in a serious tone as "someone with mental problems who happened to have a video camera" makes him even more compelling, as if he was just brought to the world to be the object of study and-why not-different characterizations.
Perhaps the most significant element in the film is the fact that at some point it becomes a palindrome of sorts. It begins with Guetta being a filmmaker and becoming an artist and finishes with Banksy leaving his street art on the side for a while and becoming a movie director.
If this sounds a bit too Bergman by way of Lichtenstein then the movie, whatever its real nature may be, might as well just had its way with you.