Review: EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP

Posted on 25 April 2010 by Michael McGonigle

This is a documentary film where the less you know about it beforehand, the better. Directed by the mysterious street artist Banksy, the ostensible story follows a French immigrant to Los Angeles named Thierry Guetta who made his living operating a second hand clothing shop.

As a hobby, Guetta began videotaping the nighttime antics of various local street artists like Shepard Fairey (who created the famous HOPE poster of Barack Obama) as they plastered their guerilla art on empty billboards, highway overpasses and the blank sides of buildings, often times just a few steps ahead of the vigilant, but unappreciative L.A. police department. Virtually any street artist who was anyone, including the elusive Banksy, sooner or later got videotaped by Guetta, which led to hundreds of hours of raw footage being stored in unmarked boxes that no one would ever see. Like a collection of dictionaries on a shelf, while they may have all the words necessary to tell a great story, until someone did the actual work of putting them into a coherent order, there would be no way to separate the signal from the noise.

Several attempts to bring order to this chaos were less than successful, finally, Thierry Guetta got tired of just documenting these street artists, hey, if they could be artists by just doing it, so could he. So, blatantly stealing these street artists’ style, methods and madness, Thierry Guetta declared himself an artist and began to create work on his own. Yes, just like that.

Exit Through The Gift Shop finally takes us to the madcap opening of Thierry Guetta’s first one-man show in a gallery created from an unused TV Studio. It is a huge success and becomes the “happening” place to be seen for a while. In fact, Thierry Guetta has probably made more money and generated more press than some of the street artists he used to film and who are still on the streets as it were, much to their annoyance.

Exit Through The Gift Shop is a thrilling and original film that grabs you from the first and won’t let go; the only problem with all of this is it may just be a prank. The clues to that are the fact that Banksy, the nominal director is a notorious prankster and not too many people seemed to have heard about this Thierry Guetta until this film was made. One other thing, actor Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill, Greenberg, Pirate Radio) provides the narration for the film and unless I am very mistaken, also seems to be the disguised voice of Banksy, who we see interviewed in heavy silhouette to hide his face. It also seems odd that all of this could have been happening in the very public L.A. art community without more people on the outside hearing about it.

Either way, this is a fast paced and exciting film that will tickle you, astound you and fascinate you, even if you know nothing about street art. Which makes Exit Through The Gift Shop either the most believable mockumentary in film history, or the most disingenuous documentary.

Exit Through The Gift Shop celebrates the subversive excitement many artists feel as they skewer the pieties of the pop culture that spawned them and not so subtly reminds us that on occasion, even the tamest of artists will bite the hand that feeds them. Don’t miss it.

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