Exit Through the Gift Shop

Thierry Guetta is a Frenchman who lives in L.A. and records everything he sees: his wife, his kids, his clothing store, the celebrities who wander by (“C’est Shaq!” he gasps). But when he met Space Invader, an artist who Superglues 8-bit mosaics on walls, he pointed his camera at him and claimed he was making a documentary on street art. And like a hungry social climber, Thierry resolved to film everyone including the ultimate catch: Banksy, the faceless, nameless star of the street art scene. Thierry got his wish. Only there was no documentary, just thousands and thousands of unlabeled tapes Thierry had no intention of rewatching. And so the credited director on this fascinating film is Banksy himself, which I half-believe, who uses Thierry’s footage to study “someone with mental problems who happens to have a camera.” But that the film opens with a montage of taggers and tips its hand: this is really for and about the street artists and the people who love them. It’s a defense of an art that divides its critics: half think it’s graffiti, and to the other half, it’s over-priced hokum. Where is the line drawn between a sullen 14-year-old with a can of spray paint and Banksy daring to paint a window and love seat on the West Bank wall? Exit Through the Gift Shop doesn’t confront these questions. Instead, it finds the answers in its failed chronicler when Thierry resolves to become a million-dollar street artist himself under the handle Mr. Brainwash. He has the dream and the gallery and the date and the publicity first—what’s second, and to him clearly last, is the art itself. His mad six-month dash to fill his space with hundreds of paintings (few of which he actually does himself) siphons—or really, steals outright—from the real artists he’s studied. But Banksy provokes; the Frenchman jokes. And we realize that though Thierry is the only cameraman to get access to Banksy, he’s never understood his street art at all. What’s the difference between that 14-year-old and a grown-up hype monster spray-painting Campbell’s soup cans? Nothing. But the gulf between them and Banksy is as wide as the Pacific.

Click here for Exit Through the Gift Shop in the IE Weekly

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