Sunday, 9 May 2010

Banksy’s Exit Through the Gift Shop reviewed

Once upon a time a video camera fell into the hands of a Frenchman living in Los Angeles. The result of that otherwise entirely forgettable  incident is Exit Through the Gift Shop, or stopping Mr Thierry Guetta stupidly playing with that camera and do something useful instead, as playing at being Mr Brainwash the showman and con the art connoisseurs both in Los Angeles and New York out of their pocket money. Or is it the whole thing a big con? If it is, who is conning whom in here? Are we, the viewers of this film, being conned about the very existence of Mr Brainwash? We know that Thierry Guetta does exist, unless Banksy has also being able to convince the Los Angeles Times and the BBC that a construct has a real existence. We also know that Mr Brainwash mounted those exhibitions in Los Angeles and New York. However, who is Mr Brainwash really? Banksy? Thierry Guetta?

What makes Exit Through the Gift Shop so unforgettable, apart of being a superb documentary on the street art scene of the past decade, depicting the works not only by the still secretive Banksy – we see his shadowy figure and hear his electronically distorted voice, but also by many other famous and infamous graffiti artists, a film that does justice to the guerrilla filming approach, both Guetta and Banksy seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time escaping the clutches of police officers and security personnel. This is an irreverent look into the art world, into the shallowness of the art market. It also documents very closely what entailed for Banksy and other street artists to produce their works, as the camera follow their preparations and raids in the middle of the night into some of the most unlikely locations, high up on walls above the roofs of adjacent buildings, the camera pointing anywhere and everywhere as Thierry climbs behind them, crossing fences to get into restricted access areas in Disneyland, or filming Banksy as he surreptitiously hangs some of his own paintings in the National Gallery, where it remained undetected for several hours. The camera even follows him in his incursion onto the most notorious and infamous wall of our contemporary world, the wall separating Israel from the Palestinian territories.

Banksy finally managed to shake Guetta off his back by challenging him to produce the goods, the resulting 90 minutes long film would have been much more intelligible if it had been edited by a toddler. So, Mr Brainwash the artist was born, storming Los Angeles in a big way with Life is Beautiful, and another show following in New York shortly afterwards. However, at this point, none of the questions raised at the beginning of this review have been answered, and probably they will remain as such.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is an irreverent and humorous film which documents Banksy and the street art scene commendably well, a very anarchic affair in a British way. I intensely enjoyed it. My only regret is that I would have liked to see more of Banksy’s works, as they are very witty, inquisitive, anarchic and subversive.

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