Exit Through the Gift Shop, 2010.
Directed by Banksy.
A documentary about a documentary on street art from Banksy.
There’s this man, Thierry Guetta, who films everything. He has a room full of tapes, unlabelled and disorganised, chronicling his existence ever since he was gifted his first video camera. Thierry is laid back about it all, but this is an obsessive compulsion – the insistence on recording all your own experiences, able to go back and relive it like a chapter on a DVD. But those experiences are second hand. There’s a constant lens between Thierry and reality.
His cousin is the street artist ‘Invader’. Naturally, when Thierry visits him, his camcorder comes along too. They go out one night to plant his Space Invader-themed tiles around the streets of Paris. Thierry has a blast, and hooks up with a couple more street artists back in Los Angeles. There’s Zevs, Monsieur André, Seizer and Shepherd Fairy. That last one bases his motif on a photo of Andre the Giant from the late-70s. That gets points. Wrestling’s cool.
These people don’t much like being filmed, but Thierry records them anyway. He’s a bit dim like that. They forget he’s even there after a while. Besides, Thierry makes for a good lookout. But they still suspect his motives. So Thierry makes something up: he’s making a documentary about them. Graffiti has a short shelf life, it’s a fleeting art, so Thierry volunteers to record and document it.
Through these contacts, Thierry eventually meets and befriends Banksy, who is credited as Exit Through the Gift Shop’s director. He’s a pretty big cheese when it comes to graffiti. Just look at all the photo-books alongside the queues in HMV. Exit Through the Gift Shop is Banksy’s documentary about Thierry making a documentary on street art. Very metaphysical, and arguably a fabrication.
Thierry shows Banksy the film he has edited together from the thousands of tapes he has recorded on. It’s awful, but out of the goodness of his heart, Banksy takes over in an attempt to salvage it. Exit Through the Gift Shop is supposedly made from him going through these many tapes.
This is about two-thirds of a way into the film (Banksy comes into the actual narrative rather late, existing mainly as a silhouetted, distorted talking head). The remaining third is Thierry’s life after Banksy has taken over. With a few, misconstrued words of encouragement from Banksy in his heart, Thierry goes forth to create his own street art show. He pumps money into it – he re-mortgages his house – and employs a team of workers to create his ideas for him. The factory line of production he eventually gets going is not dissimilar to Andy Warhol’s Factory.
He puts on a show, and through aggressive and self-indulgent PR, he gets almost the entire L.A. art crowd onboard. And with no actual talent, Thierry becomes a millionaire, selling his half-baked, mass-produced ‘art works’ to pretentious fools from California.
There are many references to Thierry and his art show being a ruse within the film. His adopted street name is ‘Mister Brainwash’. That film he made was entitled ‘Life Remote Control’. The guy is a joke, a fabrication, a criticism of phonies. There’s a scene where he gives an interview to the camera in the same pose as Michael Jackson on the front cover of his Thriller album. He exposes the art-buying crowd, how quickly they are to jump on a trend. Banksy, at one point, even remarks he “doesn’t know who the joke’s on.”
But it is in how perfectly constructed the metaphors are. They must be pre-meditated. As Thierry is gaining Banksy’s trust, they go on a trip to Disneyland to plant a few Guantanamo Bay-style blow-up dolls around the park, as you do. As they walk around and go on a couple of rides, they notice they are being followed. Everything gets pretty paranoid. “The Mickey Mouse security team” follow them and pick up Thierry while Banksy escapes. The whole sequence is a big metaphor for an otherwise tranquil and happy place at surface level having a dark, CCTV state beneath it. Not that Thierry didn’t really get picked up by security. Nor that they didn’t actually plant the blow-up doll in the park. Just that this was a planned stunt in a film, like a Michael Moore stunt, where Thierry was in on the con, rather than it happening organically.
Saying its fabricated is not a criticism of the film. It’s great that it’s generated so much debate. And although being a critique of pretentiousness, it also sheds a little light on street art. Why people do it, that sort of thing. Everyone in the film seems to have a different reason. This one kid calls himself Borf after his best friend who killed himself when he was 16. He writes little sentences and things in the name of Borf to remember him. “Sorry about your wall – Borf.” It’s all so mischievous. Sweet, in a way.
Exit Through the Gift Shop had its television premiere on Channel 4 about a month back. The first adbreak begun around 25 minutes in. I always switch off during adbreaks - read the paper or kill some bastard pigs on Angry Birds – so the first few adverts slipped by. It wasn’t until the third one that I realised the adverts were from old campaigns. A loop of four retro adverts was playing. American Express, National Tyres, Packard Bell, John Smiths. Once the John Smiths adverts had finished playing, the loop would return to the beginning of the America Express one, only each advert was getting a little shorter every time, honing in on one particular word.
“Don’t leave home without it” from American Express became “Don’t” after a while; “Buy one, get one free” from National Tyres was edited down to “Buy”; “This Packard Bell PC” became “This”; “No nonsense. John Smiths” became “Nonsense”. “DON’T”. “BUY”. “THIS”. “NONSENSE”. “DON’T”. “BUY”. “THIS”. “NONSENSE”. “DON’T” “BUY” “THIS” “NONSENSE”. “DON’T” “BUY” “THIS” “NONSENSE”. “DON’T BUY THIS NONSENSE”. “DON’T BUY THIS NONSENSE”. “DON’T BUY THIS NONSENSE”.
Sure, it’s a message against consumerism. Banksy is more intelligent than that, though. It has another meaning – “Don’t believe this documentary.”
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