I remember when Banksy came to Sundance for this film, but I never got around to watching it until the other day. And boy was I pleasantly surprised. This film is a lot different from the street art film I thought Exit Through the Gift Shop was going to be. Instead, thee film follows the creation of Mr. Brainwash and leaves the audience with a few questions about what makes art art and a person an artist.
"This is the inside story of Street Art - a brutal and revealing account of what happens when fame, money and vandalism collide. Exit Through the Gift Shop follows an eccentric shop-keeper turned amateur film-maker as he attempts to capture many of the world's most infamous vandals on camera, only to have a British stencil artist named Banksy turn the camcorder back on its owner with wildly unexpected results."
Exit Through the Gift Shop Follows Thierry Guetta as he evolves from obsessive cameraman, to film maker, to the artist knows as Mr. Brainwash. Right away people should know this is not a film about Banksy. I think some people expected the film to be a bit different from what it was and were disappointed by that, but you shouldn't be. If you want to watch a documentary about street art, then watch something else. If you want to watch a surprising film about the value of art and the art of selling out, then Exit Through the Gift Shop is for you.
After I watched this film I was left with a few really interesting questions bouncing around my head. In all honesty, my first thoughts were "wtf" and "how dumb to people have do be to pay that much money for Mr. Brainwashes work" (because the movie pretty much shows that Guetta makes his art by paying young artists to combine the art Guetta sees other artists do). But once I got over my annoyance at how easily we're all duped into believing something is "cool" just because some people we've deemed as "cool" told us so, I realized that the whole idea of what constitutes art is pretentious in and of itself. And this made me question the value of museums. While I think having a place to show and preserve art is all well and good, the questions of how the art selected is an extremely important one that few people think about (at least people outside of the art world). Do these people act as gatekeepers to the label "good art" and why do they have that power? When counterculture become mainstream, does the political and personal statements the artists were making lose their overall value? Mr. Brainwash is an example of someone outside the "establishment" using the power of it to get to the top. And as annoyed as I was with that rise to notoriety, I think that deserves a bit of respect.
A lot of people have actually questioned whether or not the film is true or is Mr. Brainwash is some kind of elaborate hoax by Banksy and Sheppard Fairy. I find this question irrelevant for two reasons. One, the film footage shot by Theirry Guetta and shown in the movie goes back at least ten years. I'm pretty sure some journalist would have broke the story long ago if Guetta's story was fishy. (Oh I just showed my trust in journalism today didn't I? Oh well. I guess I'm an optimist.) Two, it doesn't really matter how "real" Guetta is because Mr. Brainwash undoubtedly is. His rise to fame and his clever manipulation of the system is the shining piece of the film I think, and hoax or no hoax that stands. (Though in my own opinion I doubt it was a prank. The frustration of Banksy and Fairy in the film is palpable.)
I find myself wanting to ramble on and on, so all I'll say is see this film if you think authenticity matters. I read in an interview of Banksy where he says, "If we’ve done our job properly with EXIT, then the best part of the entire movie is the conversation in the car park afterwards," and I can say they have done their job superbly. The question of what make art valuable (aesthetically and financially) is an old one, but this movie brings it back to the forefront of conversation.