Wednesday 29 September 2010

Review: Exit through the Gift Shop.

Year: 2010
Director: Banksy
Screenplay: ?
Starring: Banksy, Thierry Guetta

Synopsis is here

Is it real? Is it fake? Is it all a big joke? It doesn't matter in the slightest because Banksy's "documentary" was really quite wonderful to my eyes. So much of it feels a little too "complete" to feel like an accurate documentation. However, in hindsight, that's not really the point, because what Exit wishes do is show street art at humble beginnings. Constantly he runs the line between when art becomes nothing but commerce before teasing the idea that the director is not a sell out...or is he? The film likes to play around with so much of it's content it's at times difficult to pinpoint how far the message turns into ego massaging.

But this is where the fun lies, as a documentary;  it's a consistently watchable feature, charting the rise and peak of not only a niche culture(Graffiti now under the guise of "street art"), but of it's wildly eccentric subject in French Shopkeeper Thierry Guetta. Banksy melds intriguing personality with interesting premise effectively and at face value, what you have is well put together account of a very passionate man. Scratch the surface (or watch a couple of films) and the film is as authentic as the ten pound notes you see halfway through the film. But suddenly we realize that in playing the film out as fiction the message becomes clear.

Bansky's film takes what some considers an artform (graffiti) and not only documents it's craft, it's hazards and controversy (consider an updated style wars maybe) but it shows how the message and reasons behind these images (politics, humour, or just being noticed) can suddenly become lost when the calling of fame and celebrity come calling. In one moment former street artist Shepard Fairey (behind the now iconic Obama "hope" image) states "The more you see of an image, the more power it brings" and Banksy toys with this interesting theme with a layered sequence involving his own L.A installations. As Hollywood's finest stroll amongst the imagery, Banksy is actually at Disneyland inflating a Guantanamo Bay Air model prisoner beside one of the kids rides.  When you are told that the many news presenters are reporting about the fact that a real elephant (covered in pink kid's hand paint) is displayed in a bedroom at the installation. The full stop on these two seemingly unrelated oddball exercises is the date: The anniversary of 9/11.

But it's not all about proverbial/literal elephants in the room, the film is constantly humorous in it's small moments as well. The comment of the old lady who sees Bansky's "murdered telephone" piece is a deceptively obvious yet amusing one, while Guetta's street art video will feel familiar to those who've had to suffer art and experiment video production at university or at least a bad skate video. The juxtaposition of street artists being stopped by cops while an art collector mentions later on that she got everyone to buy a Banksy also provides a knowing smile. 

But the most interesting thing about Banksy film is it's director using a different artform for the first time to demonstrate how when an artform becomes a commodity, it's in danger of losing subjectivity and danger. By the time we reach the unveiling of Guetta's own pet art project "Mr brainwash"  He also demonstrates how not everyone can just become an artist. It's brilliant to use street art as the background for such a them with it's roots in hip-hop, but Banksy's film is so universal in it's telling that comparisons can be utilized not only to hip-hop, but paintings and films themselves.

I've been quite indifferent to Banksy for the most part but in watching this I feel that as an artist i don't think the man has "sold out". I think like many people who get thrust in a public eye for truly doing something that people find interesting is trying to push different messages out in different forms while trying to keep that personality. Exit Through the Gift Shop may be a film but it invokes the same reckless spirit that Banksy's street paintings have.