Saturday, April 17, 2010

Exit Through the Gift Shop. Banksy, is that you?

by baad lamb

"I always used to encourage everyone to make art. I don’t do that any more." -Banksy

"Life is a chess game, and I don’t know how to play chess." -Thierry Guetta aka Mr. Brainwash

As soon as I heard about Exit Through the Gift Shop, I started to doubt the premise. The concept of a documentary movie both about and by the camera shunning world famous street artist-provocateur Banksy seemed beyond unlikely. Then after seeing the trailer, I got really skeptical (rather unusual because I’m actually pretty trusting, and don’t automatically step into the doubt side).

Yet here I was prepping myself to look for subtle Fight-Club revealing moments. Would we ever see Banksy and Thierry together in the same shot? I wondered which one might be playing “the game” on The Other, sustaining a prolonged cerebral fabrication between Dueling Art-heads, two opposites acting completely genuine while purposely leaving us guessing the reality of either.

Banksy plays the thoughtful, principled (as principled as a law-breaking trespassing property-defacing vandal can be), art-for-art’s-sake talented original, while Thierry foils as the freewheeling, aimless, obsessively filming, thrill-seeking, borderline lunatic, a copycat-sidekick with a tragic past, and a documentarian who proves unable to assemble even two seconds of coherent film footage.

If you follow even a little bit of street art, much of the storyline in the film will already be known. But the film is also filled with insider’s views of studios and art production process and assistants; and police encounters and nighttime missions- high over Paris, London, New York and LA -which offer intriguing, revealing glimpses of the wandering wild-men world we still sometimes wish ourselves to inhabit.

Leaving behind the Big Art Questions, this film is fun and fast and funny. The Super-Heros-of-Street-Art footage is totally real; you’ll see a lot of big names in action - Space Invader,  Shepard FaireySwoonNeckface and others, who all realize that thanks to this Banksy flick, they’ll soon be even bigger.

I’ll bet Exit Through the Gift Shop will become mandatory viewing for graffiti cops everywhere (and Kinko’s should expect some heavy new surveillance). It will double as a “how to” manual for every non-acrophobic youngster with an x-acto, a piece of cardboard, and a touch of talent. Then again, as Thierry, reborn as Mr. Brainwash proves possible, many more will remember that “sucker” quip from P.T. Barnum. Then they'll plaster their schlock everywhere, promote like crazy, and hope the million-dollar paychecks will follow on the heels of LA Weekly cover stories.

The downside of his very real example? Watch out, as every below-arm’s-reach-inch of your favorite cities gets bombed by the scrawls and sprays of International Street Art Idol hopefuls and wannabes. Let’s hope they pass the Banksy Reform Bill before that happens.

Is Exit Through the Gift Shop just another Great Street Art Swindle, or just great street art? You'll have to figure that out on your own. But I know that I’m not the only one who thought they could smell a rat.

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