I’ve always kind of hated graffiti. Not so much hated, as much as I just could never get interested in any sort of piece of graffiti. Not that graffiti artists aren’t talented, I’ve just never been impressed by someone writing their name in bubble letters 20 feet tall. The only type of street art that I was really interested in were stencils. Not that stencils require more artistic talent, some might even argue you need less artistic talent, but I have always felt that stencils are more about the message, rather than the artistic content. It’s about creating an image that can be repeated multiple times and in large quantities. From the time I started getting interested in and buying books on the subject, a popular figure whose work I enjoyed was Banksy. I thought his aesthetics were engaging and the messages he was trying to get across were interesting. This was up until I read a quote from someone who lived near the West Bank who was upset with the artwork he put on the wall separating Palestine and Israel. I’m summarizing, but the woman was saying how she didn’t like the fact that he tagged the wall, because she hates the wall, and is disgusted by it, and doesn’t want it to look more interesting with artwork. I think I even read this quote in one of Banksy’s books, and ever since then I have found fewer and fewer of his pieces enjoyable. Exit Through the Gift Shop is his most recent work of art, which is supposedly a documentary about street art.
Alright buddy, we get it. You’re dark and mysterious and British. Thanks for reminding us.
The film is introduced by Banksy, who starts explaining that someone was making a documentary about him, and he thought the person doing the documentary was more interesting, so this is a film about to documentarian, Thierry Guetta. Thierry simply fell into the world of street art because his cousin, known as “Space Invader”, is prominent in the street art scene. Combine this with the fact that Thierry filmed everything, all the time, no matter what he was doing, resulted in some rare footage of street art being created. This kind of art is usually only seen after the fact, and is then destroyed by public officials, so some of that footage was pretty cool. This gave Thierry a purpose in what to do with all of this footage, and he had a driving force behind his camerawork, with the ultimate goal of meeting Banksy, one of the most well-known street artists in the world. For an artist so well-known, there weren’t really easy ways to get in touch with Banksy, but when Thierry did, it was surely by coincidence. The first 60 minutes of the film is about this quest to find these talented artists and footage of some of these artists in rare form, which is being caught in the act of creating. When Thierry shows Banksy the “completed” film, he is unimpressed and tells Thierry to spend some time creating street art while Banksy tries his hand at piecing together a street art documentary. The following 30 minutes shows Thierry trying to emulate his favorite artists, ripping off their methods, ideas, and styles, while managing a crew who are the ones actually responsible for creating the art. Not once do you see Thierry creating art, just telling people what to do. This leads up to his first gallery opening, which is attended by thousands of people who spend tens of thousands on his pieces, giving Thierry an enormous paycheck. At the end, they show all the artists featured and what they’re currently up to, and when it gets to Banksy, his comment is that he will never again help anyone film anything about street art.
Judging by the negative space, I’m gonna say it’s a rat! Is it a rat? PLEASE TELL ME IT’S A RAT!
There are a few theories on what this movie was, what it was about, what was real, and what was staged. Some people take this film for what it was, and took everything as truth. They became disgusted with “Mr. Brain Wash“, which is Thierry’s alias, and become disgusted with the person he became. Others, however, think the entire thing is fake. They think that everything in the film was staged, and it was never intended to be anything more than a mockumentary. I feel like the film fell somewhere in between, that the first 60 minutes are real, and all of it was authentic, but the last act of the film seems a little fishy. Banksy has always had his roots in street art, and lately has been criticized for “selling out” in the pieces he chooses to do and for whom. Some of his original works will sell for thousands of dollars, and it’s unclear as to what his intentions are currently. I feel as though the last portion of the film was both satirical and poking fun at the entire concept of a street artist selling out. This is mostly based on the fact that we never see Thierry creating art, the fact that the art is such a blatant mix of both Banksy and Shepard Fairey‘s (another prominent street artist) work, and the fact that Banksy is known for his hoaxes.
Mr. Brainwash himself. You can just tell from the facial hair how much of a douche he is. Did I say douche? I meant French.
No matter how you feel about the last portion of the film, happy or upset, I don’t think there is much reason to doubt that the first 60 minutes have some very interesting footage of both artists and the art they create. In a world filled with advertising and “corporate” art that is bland and uninspired, it’s great to see artists who know the shelf-life of art, and try to get their message out in the quickest, easiest way. It shows that street art is more about the message it conveys, rather than the longevity of the piece. And whether you believe the last part or not, it’s hard to ignore the message it conveys, which is that people are more interested in a name or hype surrounding an artist, rather than the actual piece. Everything at Mr. Brainwash’s gallery was uninspired, yet to see thousands of people interested in it, and even spending money on it because Banksy “endorsed” it, the message seemed true and clear. This was one of the most enjoyable documentaries I’ve seen, and probably one of my favorite movies of this year.
Wolfman Moon Scale