Exit Through the
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
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
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
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.
to tell Filthy Something?