Banky's Exit Through the Gift Shop trailer (extended version)
Released only last Tuesday on DVD, the Banksy film Exit Through the Gift Shop has been flying out the door at the Hollywood Amoeba store, where it has already become one of the top selling titles of 2010. "Yeah, it's been selling like crazy," confirmed Jackie in the DVD section of the Los Angeles Amoeba Music by phone yesterday. "At the rate it's selling it's probably going to be one of the number one selling DVDs of the year. It's hilarious and you don't even have to be a fan of this art form to enjoy this documentary." In agreement is pioneering street artist & culture jammer Ron English, who appears briefly in the film and who along with Banksy and Swoon put his art on the Palestinian separation wall in the West Bank in 2007.
"Banksy really made a great movie. He's a great storyteller as you can see from this documentary," said English, explaining the film's premise as, "About this French guy in LA who followed Shephard Fairey around filming him for five years but then he wouldn't give him the footage. And Shephard was like, 'You got the best stuff I've ever done, so let's make the movie,' but the guy Thierry [Guetta] wouldn't give him the footage so he was suing Thierry. And then Thierry turned out to be, like, crazy. And then he did the same thing to Banksy. He shot Banksy for all these years but then he wouldn't give Banksy the footage.
So he had all of this incredible footage of all these great street artists, including his own cousin Invader [aka Space Invader based on his subject matter] but he would not do anything with it. It turned out he didn't know how to edit a movie. He was just obsessed with filming stuff. So Banksy sent him a ticket to London and said, okay, I know what to do with this. So he made a movie about this hapless French guy following all these graffiti/street artists around, and then eventually figuring out that he could be an artist himself coz he learned all the tricks of the trade from these street artists."
When Exit Through the Gift Shop played at the Sundance Film Festival organizers there described it as "The story of how an eccentric French shop keeper and amateur film maker attempted to locate and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner." And while this and Ron English's description are both accurate, there is so much more to this great film that you have to see for yourself. Compelling viewing for all of its 86 minutes, it's a wonderful documentary on so many levels. In addition to being an excellent introduction to the relatively recent history of "street art" and containing interviews with the modern art movement's leading players, it is also a humorous exposé on the superficiality of the fickle, hype-driven art buying / collecting world (or, as Shephard Fairey calls them in the film, "a lot of suckers") as they, without question, immediately embrace & instantly elevate overnight Thierry's art alter ego Mr Brainwash (aka MBW) to darling of the Los Angeles art scene. But beyond all that, Exit is at its core a touching human story of this obsessive (maybe crazy) but impossible to dislike character who is driven by his childhood past to do what he so wildly, but lovingly, does.
"He is just a ball of energy and definitely has a passion for life, I can tell you that, and he comes across in person just like in the documentary. You definitely feel very comfortable around him. He's just one of those guys that you know right away you can talk to and hang out with and have fun," said Hollywood Amoebite Maryann, who knows Thierry firsthand. "We're not close friends, but I know him. I actually met him through another friend that works here that worked at Rocket Video and we both would go around town looking for the Invaders and he's Invader's cousin. And he's come in here so I've talked to him on different occasions."
Both Amoeba Hollywood's Maryann and Jackie agree that it's likely the reason Exit Through the Gift Shop is such a popular item at their store is that it is so relatable for someone who lives in Hollywood or anywhere in LA. "You can actually walk out on the streets here and see that art outside on our streets and that big art show of his [2008's Life Is Beautiful exhibition in the old CBS building at 6121 W. Sunset Blvd.] was right here in the neighborhood, just a couple of blocks down the street from Amoeba," said Maryann. "That art show was splashed across the LA Weekly so it didn't matter that no one had heard of this artist. They went to see it because it was on the cover of LA Weekly and it was the thing to go see," added Jackie, who also works at the New Beverly Cinema, where the film clearly resonated with audiences when it sold out there for its screenings earlier this year.
In the first part of the documentary, Exit's narrator states, "street art was poised to become the biggest countercultural movement since punk." That is a very good analogy; it's one that can also relate to Thierry, who is somewhat reminiscent of punk rock's top svengali / opportunist, the late, great Malcolm McLaren, who was similarly a master pop culture manipulator that knew what people wanted and how to, without any clear artistic talent himself, deliver it to them. And like the great rock and roll swindle that was the Sex Pistols ("Ever get the feeling you've been cheated? - Johnny Rotten at end of last Pistols show at Winterland, San Francisco Jan 14th, 1978), it has been suggested by numerous bloggers that Thierry and his Mr Brainwash art alter ego was/is not real but rather a front for art prankster Banksy himself and that the whole Life Is Beautiful exhibit plus the story told in this film are part of one grand scale prank with the biggest joke being played on those who forked over thousands of dollars for Thierry/Brainwash's "art." Those swindled would include Madonna, who commissioned Mr Brainwash to design her 2009 (greatest hits) Celebration cover art that was done in the style of Andy Warhol’s famous Marilyn Monroe portrait.
I personally don't buy into the Mr Brainwash as front / prank for Banksy conspiracy theory, nor do any of the people I have talked to. But even if it were true, it would only add to the brilliance that is Exit Through the Gift Shop.
My favorite quote in the movie comes from the typically elusive Banksy himself, who always appears in Exit with his voice altered and his face in shadows, when he notes how he "used to always encourage everyone to do art," quickly adding that after his encounter with Thierry, "I don't really do that anymore!"
Really nicely packaged by Oscilloscope, the DVD of Exit Through the Gift Shop comes with a pair of paper glasses, stickers, and art cards. The special features on the DVD itself include deleted scenes, B-Movie: An Exclusive Short Film About the ‘Art’ of Banksy, plus the "Lawyer's Edit" of the original film that Thierry was going to release, Life Remote Control.