01 February 2011

Exit through the gift shop

Exit through the gift shop
A Banksy film

If you expect this to be a movie about the famous, mysterious streetartist Banksy, you will be disappointed. Through the movie you do not get much information about Banksy, even if he is interviewed.This is not about him, but rather about Thierry Guetta alias Mr. Brainwash. The story is about Thierry's venture into the world of streetart, so the movie also give some insight into streetart. The movie contains clips from the work of putting up artwork of many famous artists. Several important streetartists are interviewed.

The movie starts with how Guetta got into streetart by a coincidence, and got more and more involved. Then it builds up to a climax, a great scandal, where the artists feel that: "He fooled us all!"

What did he really do?
-Was he not genuinely interested helping and filming the artists?
-Or is it because the documentary material turned out to be useless?
-Or is it because he became an artist himself, "betraying" his former friends/mentors by becoming a competitor?
-Or is it because he use a crew of assistants to "produce" large quantities of "artwork"?
-Is it embarrassing that he showed that anyone can become an artist? Is he really an "anyone", or is he a unique talent?
-Do the other artists feel threatened by the competition of Mr. Brainwash?
After all, this movie had not been made without the material by Thierry (with quite a lot of cutting and editing afterwards, though).

There is this touching scene where Banksy says: "We became quite close, you could almost say we became ... friends." Maybe he was naive thinking Thierry would make this fantastic documentary about him, and he seems rather ungrateful, forgetting the assistance from his former partner in crime. At one moment he must have decided to get back at Guetta, making this documentary that actually mocks him. When did it turn bad then, where is the breaking point? When Banksy discovered that the movie material is not usable? Or when Mr. Brainwash got hugely popular? I am not sure.

If you get an amateur to make your biography, of course the result is amateur. If you get a weird guy to make your biography, of course the result is weird. But if you hire a journalist, she will dig up some juicy secrets you would prefer hidden. So you'd better write your biography yourself. Which is what Banksy did. Kind of. Only that the biography turns out to be more about the biographer than the biographed, more about Thierry than Banksy.


The few useful clips give a very interesting insight into the world of streetart. We see the artists on the spot, making the artwork. And we meet the artists like Space Invader, Shepard Fairey and Banksy through interviews (though most of the interviews are about Thierry). But as the actually useable material from the artwork action was limited, so is the insight.

The background material is crucial to understand the movie and to get a broader background. Both Thierry's edited film, comments, and more background information about Banksy are added. On the web there are also some interviews with the production team, where they talk about the creation process.

This movie puts question marks to some of the "criterias" of streetart:
- Anonymity? As streetartists traditionally were anonymus, some are now revealing their identity. Even Banksy seemed to consider that through Thierry's documentation. Does that mean that they are not streetartists anymore?
- Do-it-yourself? Is is crucial that a streetartist does all the work himself, or can he be a "creative guide" of a production team? There are some hints that Mr. Brainwash got the idea of this way of working from Banksy.
- Illegality? Does it have to be illegal to be streetart, or can it also be presented on canvas in a gallery?

If you take the movie for what it is, an incredible story about a unique person entering the streetart scene, it is a great movie. Would I like the movie as much if it was about Thierry entering the world of figure skating, or dog fashion? I seriously doubt it. For me it is important that it is all about street art. I hope that this movie will give the incentive to make more professionally documentaries about streetart, like the brilliant "Eloquent Vandals".

"Exit through the gift shop" is nominated in the documentary category of this year's Academy Awards. So is another movie about interventional art: "Waste Land". I have written before on this blog about how much I love that movie, and personally I hope "Waste Land" get the award.