Exit Through the Gift Shop

Dir: Banksy, 2010. Documentaries.
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Most of the talk surrounding Exit Through the Gift Shop was regarding whether it was a hoax or all real. But what was lost in the hoopla was what an incredibly entertaining and utterly fascinating film this documentary-within-a-documentary documentary is. The controversial British graffiti street artist known as Bansky is credited as director and the film is edited down from hundred of hours of film shot by a Frenchman living in Los Angeles named Thierry Guetta.  Guetta began following local artists as they secretly left their art all over LA. After an encounter with the legendary Bansky he found a new muse to shoot and continually documented his work. Eventually Guetta started doing his own street art under the name Mr. Brainwash which led to a giant Hollywood art show. Like many great documentaries the issue of where the story goes and how it gets there is more unbelievable then anything a screenwriter could concoct. As both a big-money art world statement and as the ultimate document about graffiti art, Exit Through the Gift Shop is so incredible that perhaps viewers could only take it as a put-on.

Part conman, part art enthusiast, Guetta is like a bloated Pepe Le Pew. He has a bunch of kids and owns a Melrose vintage clothing store, and he constantly has a camera filming every aspect of his life. While visiting France he begins filming his cousin, a famous graffiti artist known as Invader. So begins an obsession for Guetta. Back in Hollywood he hooks up with another famous artist, Shepard Fairey (who later would become famous for his Obama “Hope” posters) and then meets loads more. He goes with them and takes part in their illegal night painting activities. When the legendary Bansky (whose real identity has never been revealed) comes to town, Guetta becomes his wingman and films all of his illegal art installations. Guetta then travels with him to London and back to LA where he serves as lookout for a stunt Banksy pulls in Disneyland. Eventually Bansky gives him the assignment to finally take all that footage and edit it into a film about street art. But what he puts together, a hodgepodge of images he calls Life Remote Control, it’s a total unwatchable mess.

Bansky took the footage in order to reshape it and that’s what became the basis for Exit Through the Gift Shop, but the real star of the movie became Guetta. While Bansky was in England, Guetta started his own graffiti brand and then organized a gigantic art show. Working with a crew around the clock to create his “art” (Andy Warhol knock offs, pop culture silk screens, Elvis with a shotgun, that kind of thing) he fills a massive space with hundreds of pieces. With a ton of over-hyping the art show is a big hit and Guetta sold a lot, making himself very rich and suddenly a player in the art scene. 

In the final ironic twist the fan becomes the artist and the machine deems his art important. Now street art is being sold for millions in the same ballpark as more mainstream artists. Bansky—whose own work is generally socially political, while also being completely cynical—must be having a laugh as he, too, has gotten completely rich from a spray can. Behind the camera of Exit Through the Gift Shop, is he having a laugh at us? Is this just another outrageous publicity stunt? That’s for the viewer to decide; but while I didn’t buy the documentary aspects of two other terrific films from 2010 that posed as real life—the Joaquin Phoenix bio I’m Still Here and the cyber nerd hoax Catfish—both were utterly entertaining if too contrived and suspect to be real. But my spidey-senses don’t tingle over Exit Through the Gift Shop; it all feels pretty legit to me, or at least I want it to be. Maybe that’s the fun of all three films (or any documentary or even reality TV)—the viewer must trust the material. Perhaps much of that earned trust from the viewer comes from the likeability of the story and this is one story I like a lot, so chalk me up as one from the masses of gullible suckers that these guys may be putting-on, but Exit Through the Gift Shop is worth giving yourself over to.


Exit Through the Gift Shop was nominated for an Oscar (Best Documentary) at the 2011 Academy Awards.

Posted by:
Sean Sweeney
Sep 23, 2011 4:41pm
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