Moving Pictures
May 26, 2010, 07:57AM

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Street art: doesn't it say something... about... something?

I was in the mood for a documentary. I really wanted to see Babies (what can I say, I love a good, plump, giggling baby.) And fortunately, Baltimore must be hip enough to have such new documentaries playing. Exit Through the Gift Shop was also showing. Considering I was with a guy, we opted for Exit. Loss one for Emily.

I went into this film fairly knowledgeable and excited about street art. I even owned some Shepherd Fairey “OBEY” stickers in which I strategically placed on three lampposts in my town. What I was not aware of was the crazy web of street artists around the world, and the ways they interacted. Also, my “OBEY” stickers were gone a month later. Loss two for Emily.

As a film, Exit is in turns affecting, insightful, and hilarious. Banksy, despite his capacity for vicious satire, is devotedly humanitarian and fascinating.

As a premise: deliciously ironic. A French ex-pat (Thierry Guetta) who never stops filming promises to create a documentary that is never made and in turn becomes the subject of a new documentary (Banksy’s. Or is it really Banksy? We don’t know, he is hooded, black, and his voice sounds like a criminal speaking on 60 Minutes.) which some propose is itself not a documentary at all.

Banksy, who has undergone a dramatic realization at the hands of a desperate and self-degrading youth culture, is an artist for whom the urgency of his medium has always been its most important aspect. It doesn’t matter if it’s a “real” documentary.

The film's meta-idiot savant protagonist, Guetta, for whom the final product is essentially more about, turns to his self-serving desires. He creates a self-constructed alter ego, Mr. Brainwash, and gets it all wrong. During the film, he notes that “street art is about brainwash,” which the viewer interprets as Guetta rightly recognizing street art's themes of anti-authoritarianism and political corruption. What the film reveals, however, is something darker: that the “artist”-by-observer-gone-artist-mutant-clone who inarticulately expresses himself through stuttering, nonsensical metaphors, has accidentally discovered street art's power of manipulation over not just confused youth, but LA yuppies too. While Mr. Brainwash brings in thousands of dollars for shit, Banksy, Shepherd Fairey, and others look on in horror. They created a monster.

Banksy is an artist aware of the probability that his art will go away forever. This idea obviously hinders the creative mind of Mr. Brainwash, but if anything it alerts in Banksy the creativity to keep going, in plain view of the public, primarily for himself. Given all the mystery, this may be the best time to suggest that the film told me what it was about in one brief snippet: “I used to encourage everyone I knew to make art; I don't do that anymore,” says Banksy. In other words: unless you‘re passionate, unless you‘re true, unless you don‘t really give a fuck, just don‘t. Don’t, then shut up and watch.


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