|Exit Through the Gift Shop, 2010 Paranoid Pictures|
Exit Through the Gift Shop is a fascinating documentary focusing on an compulsive videographer named Thierry Guetta who, after a traumatizing life event, began filming everything all of the time. He turns his camera towards underground graffiti artists and begins to follow them around as they scale buildings, spray or paste their art, and even evade or confront the police. We see him meet a few artists, one called Space Invader, as they leave their marks around their city. The artists are interviewed with their faces obscured, fearing they may be identified by the authorities.
As his quest continues, Guetta hears of a legendary and very secretive artist named Banksy, who after being confronted by the eccentric cameraman is told is the subject of a documentary he wishes to make; a documentary that, at that time, did not exist. This all seemed to be some sort of strange plan to get deeper inside the artist community as Guetta admits he himself is also an aspiring member, and through this we get to see something strange about Guetta. Something just seems off.
As we begin to examine Guetta more deeply in the film we see some of his other recordings, some of friends and family, and one deeply disturbing shot of a room in his abode where there are literally hundreds of tapes stacked everywhere. Guetta’s madness seems to be becoming the center of the film, not the artists, and as we soon find out, this is where Guetta’s deception of the artists becomes truth, as he admits he will be compiling the footage of the artists into a single film.
As the story continues, Guetta and Banksy meet through connections after finding the artist is in the city and ultimately become friends. Guetta avidly follows Banksy around, filming his process of creating the art in a studio apartment, blowing up the art at a copy shop to a much greater size, then stenciling or pasting it that night. This part is truly interesting, as you see that this is not just a hobby for some graffitists, it is their job or even their life, as it consumes their day.
One day, Guetta travels with Banksy to a Disney park where the artist decides to throw out some guerilla art in view of one of the rides as it passes by. This intentionally controversial piece leads the park to stop the ride as it is being removed and alerts the authorities to the artist and the filmmaker. Banksy gets away, but never receives a call from his ally. Guetta is caught by park security and questioned, but is eventually released. This is a shock to Guetta and leads him to settle things down a bit. It is here that we get our last glimpse of the strange fantasy Guetta seems to be building in his head.
Banksy begins to work with Thierra to become a street artist. Guetta takes on the alias MBW, which strands for “Mr. Brainwash”, and begins to lay down some truly odd works resembling pop icons or common objects that are greatly distorted. MBW becomes poplar, though many of the established artists are perplexed by this as they consider his art unimpressive. Guetta then decides he will put together a massive exhibition, with an excessive number of works, and auction them to the public shoppers. In the end the auction brings in just over one million dollars.
After the showing Banksy is back on the camera and he admits that his support for MBW might have been a mistake. Other artists seem baffled by the success and admit that they are not particularly good or original. It’s difficult to tell if this is natural jealousy, or if they feel as though they where used by a manipulative artist to get exposure. We then learn that this film was never actually to be, but instead, the artists turn the cameras on Guetta to reveal his methods and his journey through their culture.
Exit Through the Gift Shop takes a twist towards the bizarre and it is difficult to tell what the film’s attitude is towards any of the characters in particular. It is completely impartial. This is, in fact, a good thing as a documentary should generally show us how something is, not how it is interpreted to be. The film is not without controversy, however, as some critics have claimed it to be a fabrication, though the film’s director, Banksy, defends its authenticity. Is it too real? Is it too strange to be real? One thing is for sure, Exit Through the Gift Shop is one of the most engaging documentaries of the year.