Smoke and mirrors
Exit Through the Gift Shop
So… Banksy, the infamously anonymous British street artist, has made a documentary that was originally going to be about Banksy, the infamously anonymous British street artist made by a Frenchman who was neither an artist nor a filmmaker, who then became an artist when challenged on his filmmaking, and the whole thing turned into a bit of a joke.
Or something like that.
The film starts as a fascinating and frankly exhilarating exposé of street art/graffiti/call-it-what-you-like (though, to be fair, we’re talking a higher calibre of graffiti than “I woz ere” or some brilliantly witty tag name like “Ransyd”…). Frenchman Thierry Guetta is our subject: a compulsive capturer of every moment of his and his family’s lives, he has thousands of unwatched tapes of his recorded world. His cousin is renowned street artist Space Invader, and Guetta starts following him around, filming the guerrilla installations of Invader’s trademark mosaics all over town. This leads Guetta into a growing interest in the whole street art movement, a friendship and collaboration with Shepard Fairey (creator of the Obama “Hope” poster), and eventually his quest for the ultimate interviewer’s prize: Banksy.
By some strange twist of fate (really? I’m still not sure) Banksy avails himself to Guetta, and they too strike up a friendship – with Banksy, infamously anonymous street artist that he is, allowing the enthusiastic and surely terribly irritating cameraman to film him at work in his studio and applying his artworks in public places. Banksy’s entourage don’t get it, and don’t get Guetta – and by this stage, neither does the audience.
But just you wait. Having told everyone he’s making a documentary about street art, Guetta has gotten on-side with some pretty major players. It is then apparent he had no real intention of cutting a film from all his footage, and when Banksy asks him for an edit, Guetta necessarily panics. Banksy balks at the disaster Guetta shows him six months later, and apparently encourages the flighty Frenchman to go home to LA, make some art for himself, and put on a small show.
The film is suddenly a DIY manual for how easy it is to whip up some “amazingly original and important” pieces of zeitgeist, stir up some hype, and prove the art world is just a load of smoke and mirrors. Banksy’s incredibly dry and hilarious comments (shielded by hooded face and altered voice, to preserve his married, middle-aged, West Country anonymity) lead us to believe he’s as bemused by Guetta’s success as we are, and that he had (and wanted) nothing to do with it.
But is this really the case? You can’t help but leave the cinema wondering whether the joke is on Thierry Guetta – or on Banksy and the true street artists – or perhaps on us, the hapless viewers. Whatever the situation, it’s one helluva good story.