If you have free time this week, go see “Exit Through The Gift Shop” at E Street. Well worth the 87 minutes. The film synopsis was rather cryptic, which made me equal parts intrigued and mildly irritated — a big name behind a film doesn’t necessarily translate into awesome filmage, especially where the director isn’t even known first and foremost for filmmaking.
(Such may have been the case, for instance, with the much-hyped Animal Collective film ODDSAC, which I waffled about seeing for a ridiculous amount of time. I had free tickets and the trailer had some enticing vampiric gothy-ness, but I also suspected it would just be a psychedelic mishmash of cool but otherwise meaningless visuals… in other words overkill on the artsy fartsy. If you’ve seen it, I’d love to hear what you thought).
But in this case, the director was Banksy, the notoriously elusive street artist whose subversive work has pretty much become iconic worldwide. And seeing as I am a humongo mongo mongo-ass Blur fan, this was enough to intrigue me (see Banksy’s ubiquitous cover art for the Think Tank record).
And lots of other street art in very public, and sometimes very societally sensitive places… ahem, such as the wall at the West Bank in Israel and Palestine.
Well after seeing this film, I could see why it was hard not to provide a cryptic synopsis. It was one of those baffling art-within-art-within-art type deals where the film transcends “documentary” (ie, a collection of pure facts) and morphs, before your very eyes, into art itself.
Through the first half of the film, I was duped into thinking this was going to be a relatively straight-ahead, humdrum (albeit fascinating) documentary of the underground subculture of graffiti artists. Basically, an average joe (Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman who immigrated to LA) is obsessed with the enigmatic, faceless Banksy and makes it his life goal to track him down. He succeeds and he even befriends Banksy, gaining his trust and shadows him at night as goes out to create his illicit street art. What’s more, he films Banksy … hence the documentary we are now watching.
But of course it couldn’t be that simple. Everything takes an abrupt turn about mid-way and you watch as Banksy essentially puppeteers a real-life situation into a work of art in itself, the same way he’s so good at finding that simple twist on a very mundane object and using it to reveal some painful and darkly humorous irony about our culture. The genius of it all is that the story literally becomes a real-life incarnation of some of the core messages in Banksy and Shepard Fairey‘s artwork about the power of perception in our society, and the danger in this, given that perception can be so easily fabricated and manipulated … through art, of all things. The film included Shepard Fairey, Borf, Space Invader and some other well-known graffiti artists. And Rhys Ifans, who apparently used to sing in Super Furry Animals, narrates the whole thing, at one point referring to street art as “the biggest counter-cultural movement since punk.”
Parts of the film were pretty hilarious and entertaining, but it’s a good question who gets the last laugh in this film. It’s Banksy’s film, though, and he comes across as a rather amazing mastermind… whether those two facts are correlated is up to the viewer to decide. Banksy’s pretty darn rad regardless. And we still don’t know what he looks like. Just that he has a British accent and looks cool in a hoodie in the shadow.
PS, if you’re the type to live for those touchy feely discussions about what is art, why is art, what makes art great, is all art great, etc., (all that crap haha, jk I’m one of them!) this documentary will have a bit for you to chew on for days.