In recent years, I’ve read about the exploits of Banksy, Britain’s most famous street artist. Therefore, I couldn’t pass up watching Exit Through the Gift Shop, a 2010 documentary about Banksy and street art. Here are a few thoughts about the film:
1. The main character of the film is not Banksy but a Frenchman living in Los Angeles named Thierry Guetta. Guetta ends up filming a lot of street artists, eventually meets Banksy, and then sets out himself to be an artist.
2. One of the most dramatic scenes of the film involves Disneyland where Banksy and Guetta stage an “art installation.” While the reaction of Disneyland is not a surprise, it is still interesting to hear how quickly and how seriously their security responded to the situation. The hidden world of happy Disneyworld and Disneyland is a fascinating subject.
3. The images and symbols of the street art world are interesting. Based on what is in this film, one could surmise that it is generally involves ironic or snarky takes on common images and ideas. Part of the allure is simply placing these pictures in prominent places – the artists have a fairly persistent threat of being caught. The other part of the allure is that the art is often “cheeky,” particularly Banksy’s work that challenges the status quo (see the paintings on the wall separating Palestine and Israel). Some of the images are new but many of them are repackaged or remixed.
4. The film also spends some time following how street art became lucrative art as collectors and the general public rushed to buy it. What began on the streets became institutionalized art that museums had to have in their galleries and wealthy people had to have on their walls. I would be curious to know if the value of these art pieces has risen in the last few years (particularly compared to more “traditional” art). The film doesn’t quite display an outright sneer toward this popularity, perhaps more of a wry and bemused grin.
5. I read something recently that suggested it is hard to know whether this is truly a documentary or not, particularly since it is a documentary that tracks the life of an amateur documentarian. Is this all smoke and mirrors or an authentic film about a burgeoning art movement? Have stories in the form of mock documentaries, such as The Office, ruined “truth” caught on camera forever? Ultimately, I’m not sure it matters – the real question about most films is whether they are entertaining or not. And this film is pretty entertaining.
I found this film, on the whole, to be fun. The art is interesting, particularly watching the street artists working hard to put slightly subversive images in interesting places, and the characters even more so, particularly Guetta and his created alter ego (and the questions regarding the truth of his alter).
(Critics loved this film: the film is 98% fresh, 96 fresh reviews out of 98 total, at RottenTomatoes.com.)