“Exit Through the Gift Shop” is a 2010 documentary which begins with an exploration of the world of street art. Eventually, it makes a number of statements about the permanence of art, the commercialization of it, what makes art “good” or at least worthwhile…
Along the way, it will have you wondering if it’s on the level.
The movie tells the story of Thierry Guetta, an obsessive videographer. He confesses that ever since he got his first camera, he’s compulsively filmed every possible moment he could. Even before he began filming for the movie, he had boxes and boxes of tapes covering the ordinary, mundane moments of his life. Then, when he discovers his cousin is an internationally known street artist, he finds the perfect outlet for his compulsion for documenting things on film.
He enters a world of graffiti artists, midnight sidewalk stencilers, artists who paste stickers and posters and repaper billboards, etc etc. Each of them hide behind aliases and perform their works at night, in order to avoid the police. One artist introduces him to the next, who introduces him to another, and so on. Through it all, Guetta records everything, explaining to the artists that he’s making a documentary about street art.
Eventually, Guetta is introduced to Banksy.
Banksy is the world’s most famous street artist. He is known not only for the quality and cleverness of his work, but for the daring locations he chooses. Below is a work he did on the Isreali side of the West Bank barrier in 2005.
Banksy lets Guetta have unprecedented access to his work. However, soon, he’s asking Guetta about his film, the street art documentary. When will it be ready?
And this is when the film moves in… unexpected directions.
When you’ve fully bought in to this film as a well done study of an intriguing, unique subject, it shifts into uncharted territory. Roles reverse. The artist steers the film while the film maker begins to make art. Art for arts sake becomes decidedly about self promotion, hype, and cash. Tons of cash. It’s nearly impossible not to begin to wonder if you’re being played.
Whether we are or not, it’s an intoxicating rush of a film that works on multiple levels. It was nominated for about a jillion awards, including the Academy Award for best documentary. It’s still currently on Netflix watch instantly, I recommend you check it out!