Banksy, Shepard Fairey
Exit Through The Gift Shop is a documentary or, in all likelihood, Exit Through The Gift Shop is not a documentary. Maybe Exit Through The Gift Shop is performance art? protest art? An intertwining amalgam of all three?
Oh hell, I have no idea what Exit Through The Gift Shop actually is other than a heck of a lot of fun for its full 87-minute run time.
Having received its world premiere at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, Exit Through The Gift Shop is the first film by renowned graffiti artist Banksy (unless you happen to buy into the advertised set-up). The film starts off with an upscale French-born L.A. boutique owner named Thierry Guetta with too much time on his hands and just enough curiosity to get himself in trouble when he starts following his cousin, a renegade graffiti artist billing himself as Space Invader. These nightly jaunts lead to encounters with other artists such as Shepard Fairey (creator of President Obama's "Hope" posters) and, finally, the always elusive Banksy.
Exit Through The Gift Shop would have you believe that Guetta then sets out to create a film about Banksy only to have Banksy turn the tables on him by film's end before Guetta purportedly turns them back.
Reality? Incredibly doubtful.
Who actually cares?
Whether Exit Through The Gift Shop is actual documentary, faux documentary, performance art or protest exhibit, the film is an endlessly entertaining, intriguing and stimulating production in which graffiti artists receive their due and the oh so American ability to commercialize virtually everything is relentlessly lampooned.
Banksy, an elusive anti-authoritarian artist whose works can be found from coast-to-coast and around the world, makes for a captivating character study even if, in all likelihood, we're not studying his character at all. Much more likely, Banksy is telling us about our own artistic and corporate character, embodied by an unabashed gullibility that allows us to surrender to the latest trends, latest artistic craze or spectacle. Banksy has said the film is about "a man who tried to film the un-filmable. And failed," but the truth likely exists somewhere in the middle of Banksy's devious artistic expression and his acute awareness of the world that surrounds him.
What looks like style over substance is, in all likelihood, one of the most profound art documentaries in years ingeniously constructed by Banksy so as to leave the viewer wondering hours and even days after having left the theatre.
Or maybe not.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic