June 20, 2010

17.06: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Is this, a Banksy film, all a bit of a put on? Or is it all actually, unbelievably, real? There has been a fair bit of talk around the reality of the film since it premiered at Sundance; some even saying it was secretly directed by Spike Jonze. Whatever the "truth" is, this is a fascinating look into the street art subculture.

Ostensibly beginning with Thierry Guetta and his compulsion to video everything, the LA-based Frenchman stumbles onto the burgeoning street art culture via his cousin, the street artist Space Invader. Soon Guetta is following more and more street artists around, filming them as they clamber over buildings pasting massive posters and spray-painting. All illegal of course. Which makes the fact that he is filming these people - including Shepard Fairey, whose "OBEY" has become known all over the world - all the more incredible. However, this just drives Guetta to want to capture the unobtainable - the reclusive English artist, Banksy, at work. And he does. And more than that, they become friends. And then things take a strange turn...

Guetta, after a gentle nudge from Banksy, throws himself headfirst into becoming a street artist - under the moniker Mr. Brainwash - himself. Whether Thierry is real, or an imagined character, he still manages to become a street art star almost overnight. And his work... is terrible. Derivative and mass produced for consumption and commercialisation, his quickly hashed together exhibition rakes in the punters.

So, is it all real? Or is it all a massive prank, executed on all of us by Banksy? Or, does that question even matter? This documentary asks us a possibly bigger question: what is art? These street artists, who were perhaps considered little more than graffiti artists and vandals when they first appeared, are now part of the art establishment. Whether they like it or not. So, who then is to judge what work can be considered art or not? And the really magical thing about this documentary is, you can be considering all these questions even as you watch it, and it's still damned entertaining. Banksy himself (possibly. Appearing in shadows, with a distorted voice and almost too perfect line delivery) has a few cracking lines.

In the end, perhaps Guetta is just the perfect example of the 21st Century artist: manufactured and cannibalising the icons of the past, with no deeper meaning and with nothing really to say.

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