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This week:
Exit Through the Gift Shop

Filthy says:
"A good fucking time."

Exit Through the Gift Shop is a damn fascinating movie. It's probably a documentary. That word makes most people not want to see it because true-life stories rarely have nudity, and when they do, it's the sad kind, of poor people suffering, or prisoners in concentration camps. You know, the kind that even teenagers and I have a hard time using as masturbation fodder. There is no nudity in this story about graffitists and a man who follows them with a camera.

I say it's probably a documentary because some claim it's a hoax and the character at its core is the creation of the filmmaker, a graffitist named Banksy. Regardless of documentary or hoax, I'll take the movie at face value. If it's a joke, I got fooled and I don't fucking care. Besides, if it's a hoax the points it makes are even more pointed.

In Exit Through the Gift Shop, graffitists are called "street artists". Fuck that. That's like calling comic books "graphic novels"; puffery to make someone think they're getting respect. The name in no way shapes the work.

The main character is videographer Thierry Guetta, a restless, immature Frenchman living in Los Angeles and running a boutique that takes old clothes, rebrands them as "designer" and sells them to the public at astronomic markup. He videotapes everything. Every minute of what he does, what his wife does, what his children do. Not that he ever watches the tapes. He just tapes. At one point, the movie makes a weak effort at pop-psychology to describe why he does this, but I didn't care and it doesn't impact the story.

On a trip to Europe, Guetta decides to follow his cousin about with his camera. The cousin is a graffitist named either Invader or Space Invader, whose specialty is making pixilated mosaics of old videogame characters and gluing them to outdoor spaces around France. The mosaics are cool. I think the point is to delight people with elegant, yet odd, references in unexpected places. It doesn't matter. Exit Through the Gift Shop doesn't spend much time explaining the point or the reason for graffiti.

In his mind, Guetta starts thinking of himself as a filmmaker, just because he has a camera. From Space Invader, he latches on to other graffitists, including Shepard Fairey, most famous for ripping off an AP photographer for his iconic "Hope" image of Barack Obama. He came to fame with his funny and omnipresent Andre the Giant "Obey" stickers and murals. More famous, though, is Banksy, an elusive Brit who does large scale stuff all over the world. I don't have knowledge of the graffiti world, but his shit is the most entertaining and thoughtful in the movie. While most of these guys are either great graphic designers or dudes with spray cans and one idea, Banksy is sort of like Marcel Duchamp and Claes von Oldenburg, who subverted art often through its own processes and make me laugh while thinking later. Look up Oldenburg's "Knife Ship" and Duchamp's "Fountain" because they're fucking awesome.

Maybe Exit Through the Gift Shop is skewed to make Banksy look brilliant because he, ultimately, is its director. After following and filming the graffitists for years, Guetta got no closer to making a movie. He filmed the graffitists and dumped the videotapes, unwatched, into bins. He used the camera to be part of something more interesting than his own life and of which he didn't have the talent to partake directly. As Banksy's career took off and his graffiti became mainstreamed and valued by the art community, Guetta realized he was sitting on gold. He had been the only person documenting Banksy at work, which included taking a British telephone booth and reshaping it to look as though it had been stabbed in an alley and bled to death, and forging a million pounds worth of English notes that replaced the Queen's image with Princess Diana.

Inspired by Banksy's success and the potential jackpot his footage could be, Guetta finally tried to make a movie from his thousands of hours of unlabeled, random footage. Because he had no fucking clue what he was doing and no desire to put in too much effort, he assembled an unlabeled, random 90-minute pile of shit. The brief clip shown in Exit is unwatchable, so the whole thing must be like letting cats piss in your eyeballs.

A theme for Guetta is that inability, lack of experience and talentlessness don't stop him. He's either too dumb, naive or relentless to know he's no good. Banksy tells Guetta the movie sucks, but says it politely enough that the dope takes it as a compliment. He is encouraged to get out of moviemaking and try graffiti for himself. Meanwhile, Banksy takes the footage and tries to salvage it. Except that what he finds more interesting than Guetta's tapes is Guetta himself.

That's because Guetta's has gone into being a graffitist with as much dumb drive as he did with filmmaking. He assumes he can do it, despite having no artistic skills. He buys shitloads of equipment and hires dozens of people to use it. He renames himself "Mr. Brainwash", and cranks out truckloads of graphic designs that are, to me, fucking lame and derivative of Lichtenstein, Warhol, Fairey, Banksy and anyone else whose ideas he liked. As he did by relabeling old clothes as "designer", he relabels prints as "art" with the goal of profiting.

Guetta's works lack the one thing that allows competent graphic design to transcend into art: cleverness. These are just big-ass pictures with themes that a high school art class would come up with given a few hours. For example, huge, lurid silkscreens of Elvis and Dietrich, and a picture of Mona Lisa with a pirate patch that only reminded me how great Duchamp's with the mustache was and how pathetic every variation since has been. It's a reminder that art, in some cases, is being there first. T-shirt sales are for those who come second, third and fourth.

Because Guetta appears too dumb not to believe in himself, and because he has no problem self-promoting, he cons a hell of a lot of people into believing he's the real deal. The mainstream, completely out of touch with graffiti and the difference between art and shit in its world, don't know who is new and who has been doing it for years. They buy Guetta in his entirety and let him make himself a star.

That raises a lot of questions. First, is Guetta an artist? He isn't one for his paintings because they aren't personal, original or thoughtful, and he isn't passionate about their content. But maybe he is for reinventing himself on such an enormous scale. Who else has the balls to rent out 15,000 square feet of space, hire artists to do the work, and promote the fuck out of a massive gallery show when he's only been at it a few months? Is he in on the joke on the art collectors and public that his derivative work is elevated only through hype? Second, what is the route to becoming an artist? The graffitists like Banksy got in through a back door. They didn't follow the traditional path and, in fact, had to break a lot of legal and art laws to get in. So, do they have the right to be offended that Guetta got in through the window? Both Banksy and Fairey do sound sort of annoyed about it, and about Guetta's shameless commercialism. It's hard to feel bad, though, for a guy who talks about how you have to put in your years spray-painting other people's walls when, no doubt, some established artist grouses about the way Banksy succeeded. Third, how gullible are the tastemakers and collectors in the art world that they can be taken in by Guetta. They appeared to be sorry to miss out on Banksy's stuff and were eager to jump on the next hot thing, even if that "hot" label was self-generated. How is the world supposed to know the good shit from the bad when the self-proclaimed tastemakers and art-hoarders are such peer-pressured dopes? Finally, is what you saw still art if you have to exit through the gift shop, or is it just promotional material there to sell you shit?

Those are the questions Banksy asks. Exit Through the Gift Shop is shambly as a result of the source material. There is a whiff of resentment to it, and of self-promotion. It may be a hoax but it probably isn't. And it's fascinating as fuck. Four Fingers.

Want to tell Filthy Something?



The evergreen Pete Hammond

Princess Kaiulani is "A must see!... A rich, romantic and captivating movie experience!"

Robin Hood is "A triumphant success! Spectacular epic moviemaking at its best in the tradition of Gladiator and Braveheart!"

Filthy's Reading
Philip Roth - The Anatomy Lesson

Listening to
Pixies - Purple Tape

The Office