Under the Radar: “Exit Through the Gift Shop”

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“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.

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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!

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6 thoughts on “Under the Radar: “Exit Through the Gift Shop”

  1. Great movie. I saw this around the end of last year. It’s hard to say whether if it’s meant to be a straightforward documentary or not. Either way, the movie is still incredibly interesting and entertaining. I couldn’t agree more with the score of “A.” Everyone should see this.

      • I think Banksy is going to fly to LA and put a beatdown on Mr. Brain Wash. He totally sounded disgusted that MBW didn’t really put in his time and he basically just ripped other people off. There’s a website called “thechive.com” They sell banksy T’s and whatnot. I just found it both amazing and disturbing that people would pay that type of cash for stuff that was basically scanned and photoshopped. It was a great flick though and Banksy does have some crazy talent.

      • I know, right? He’s awesome.

        I think the whole MBW thing is the “moral of the story” if you will. It’s an indictment of the world of commercialized art. The film is saying it’s all about hype and buzz over any real quality in the art itself.

        The funniest thing is, Brainwash didn’t even do half of the stuff he sold! He had a team he hired, right? Lol.

        But that’s why I’m unsure if this flick is on the level or not. I mean one way or the other, it’s such an implausible movie! Either an incredible set of circumstances led to a movie that makes a great statement, or this is a genius level prank in motion.

  2. It’s great how Banksy’s disgust with Mr. Brainwash’s makes him part of the ‘old guard’ of artists that he used to rebel against.

    Nonetheless, the best documentaries are always the one that skews and question your definition of truth, whether it’s on the level of ‘this washed-up celebrity is actually a nice, well-balanced person’ to whatever levels of identity that Banksy was working on. He should have won an Oscar.

    • You may be right. It was an Oscar calibre flick, and it DID get nominated.

      But in fairness, I haven’t seen the winner, “Inside Job”. So I’m not sure if it was better or not.

      Thanks for posting Paolo!

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