Film Review: “Exit Through the Gift Shop” ★★★★ (4/5)

“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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8 responses to this post.

  1. Thank you for recommendation – I’ve forgotten about it since reading Roger’s review. I checked my sources, and I think I will watch it around this weekend along with the movie for Halloween review.

    P.S.
    I recently watched “Me and Orson Welles”. It was a terrific backstage drama. “I’m Orson Welles!” – that strangely took me back to when I hear “I’m Beowulf!” at the movie theater.

    I recommend you “(Untitled)”. It’s a funny, intelligent comedy about the New York art industy and “a thin line separating art from junk”.

    Reply

    • Thank you for the counter-recommendation. 🙂 I’ve never heard of “(Untitled)” so thank you for bringing it to my attention.

      “Me & Orson Welles” was magnificent. I think he was robbed of a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

      Am I the only one who really enjoyed the old-legend-tale atmosphere of “Beowulf”? Which film will you review for Halloween? I’m curious.

      Reply

      • Yes indeed, Christian McKay was robbed of a best supporting actor nomination, no question (he might have even won). And Me and Orson Welles was just a terrific film.

        Speaking of Welles, has anyone here heard the famous radio broadcast he performed on October 30th, 1938 of War of the Worlds that put people in a panic (mainly because many people missed the first part of the broadcast that said it was a radio play)? I got to hear part of it in my sixth grade English class (I have since found out that it’s on Youtube in its entirety. What a surprise). Might be fun to listen to it on the night before Halloween.

      • I love Welles’ “War of the Worlds” radio adaptation. It was so original! I loved how he handled the material. He would like interupt music with instant updates to make it sound like everything was happening instantly while you were randomly listening to some radio music. What a genius, ey? Mass communication students study the “War of the Worlds” hysteria case in universities. I’ve seen chapters in educational books dedicated to the incident and how people will believe anything as long as it’s on the radio and so on. I don’t know would you believe it if suddenly CNN, BBC and so on reported fake alien attacks?

        Most people would…at least I think so.

        Anyway, maybe I should upload the “War of the World” radio file on this blog for Halloween.

  2. Life changing documentary and my favorite film of this year.

    Reply

  3. Thanks for recommending this funny documentary. When I read Roger’s review, I did not understand well what it is about, but now I get it. I don’t know whether it is fake or not, it is surely an amusing one. Talk about Dr. Frankenstein.

    The documentary in the movie is as bad as “Transformers 2”, but it’s more hilarious.

    I reviewed “Motel Hell” for Halloween, but, after reading the article tweeted by one of our friends, I wrote the second review: “Candyman”.

    Reply

    • I’d very much like to read both your reviews. Links please 🙂

      Yes, the sense of humour in “Exit Through the Gift Shop” is what made it work. “Transformers 2” didn’t know it sucked, which is primarily why it did. While here Banksy knows the documentary within the documentary was a bad one or rather one impossible to film.

      Reply

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