“Exit Through the Gift Shop”, the first film directed by graffiti artist Banksy, is a unique documentary that more or less commercializes street art like we have never seen before. The film traces the journey of an amateur filmmaker, Thierry Guetta, who went from filming street artists in action to becoming a self established graffiti artists now known as MBW or Mr. Brain Wash. It’s the first film to include exclusive footage of some of the world’s most infamous underground artists talking about their passion, adventures and misadventures.
Banksy never quite takes the documentary seriously and uses humor to tell his story, or more specifically MBW’s story. “Exit Through the Gift Shop” would make a perfect double-bill with “Man on Wire” another documentary about people committing illegal acts for both the thrill of it and to showcase their art. However, while “Man on Wire” was a suspenseful tight and focused story with moments of beautiful imagery that had me sitting in the theater in awe, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” never quite measures up to what it’s going after.
Part of the reason is because it lacked focus. At times, I wondered whether the film was about Banksy, at others it seemed to be about Guetta chasing and trying to befriend Banksy and at the very end, Guetta himself becomes the subject. This constant shift of focus is what kept the film from reaching potential greatness. Banksy is fully aware of this flaw as the tagline of the film reads “The incredible true story of how the world’s greatest Street Art movie was never made…” but for some reason I did not get the point of it all.
That said, the film is very entertaining in that it was a lot of fun witnessing rare footage of the outlaws at work. Another thing I loved was how the film touched upon the concept of how there’s a thin line separating art from junk and what gives art works aesthetic and value. While I do think of Mr. Guetta as a very interesting personality, his work seemed unoriginal and dare I say a scam. Earlier in the picture the Frenchman mentioned how he used to operate a vintage store and put extremely overpriced labels on cheap clothes. People bought into it and he used the same method at the end when he pulled off a last minute art gallery and made over a million pounds selling hurried art pieces that Banksy once refers to as art that “looks like everyone else’s”- maybe that’s the underlining theme of MBW’s( artwork?).
Had Banksy handled the material from a different angle instead of confusing the viewer with how much of it all is real and fiction, this could have been the ultimate graffiti motion picture. Unfortunately, the bar isn’t set too high for future filmmakers who may consider tackling the interesting life-style of artistic risk-takers. In other words, “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is a good and entertaining documentary partly incomplete in becoming the ultimate study of a specific counterculture. Then again, that was the point of it all, to film an unfilmable account. Wait, maybe I did get the point after all.
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