Wednesday, August 3, 2016


Welcome to a new installment of WHY HAVEN'T I SEEN THAT?, where we talk about a must-see or iconic movie that we have never seen...until now. This week we take a look at the 2010 documentary...EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP.  Enjoy.

This is potentially the most delicate and interesting review that I've had to do in my entire history of the site, and the reason for that is because how carefully I feel like I have to step here for multiple reasons. First of all, I want to be really careful not to talk too much about the direction this movie goes down, because this really is a movie that you should go into knowing as little as possible. It's a Banksy documentary, yet it's not actually about Banksy all that much. It's a film about street art, yet it's about far more than that. But even more importantly, it's interesting to review this film given the controversy surrounding exactly how much of this documentary, if anything, is nonfictional and whether parts of it were fictionalized. And explaining why there is such a controversy would require spoiling the film. For that reason, I'm going to do something I've not had to do before, and split this article into two sections. First, I'll give my spoiler-free review followed by me talking about major aspects of where this film goes. I won't be giving major spoilers for the ending, but if I am to talk about my experience with this film (which is the point of Why Haven't I Seen That), I'll need to go into things I'd rather people discover on their own. But if you don't care, or if you've seen the movie already, by all means read on. But for now, this first section will be spoiler-free.

Exit Through the Gift Shop follows a French filmmaker named Thierry Guetta who ends up discovering the street art scene thanks to having connections through a relative. Through these connections, he ends up meeting and tagging along with a variety of different notable street artists, such as Shepard Fairey, an artist known not only for his street art, but also who famously created the Barack Obama "HOPE" poster. Guetta documents the process of creating and plastering the art in cities, with plans to create a documentary about the art form. However, despite meeting all these people, the one artist who eludes him is the mysterious Banksy. For anyone unfamiliar, Banksy is a well-renowned British street artist who has been making art with anti-war, anti-corporation, and politically/socially conscious themes. He is also known for being a very secretive and illusive person, with his identity being closely guarded. However, once Guetta does finally manage to come in contact with Banksy, everything starts to change. Suddenly, the line between subject and filmmaker begins to blur, and by the end of the film, all the preconceptions I had at the start of the film were flipped upside down. To say anything more would be to ruin the journey, and it's a journey worth taking.

The great thing about this early portion is getting to see the largely unseen world of street art. We get to see just how these artists get their art in seemingly impossible places, whether on billboards or the side of an apartment complex. If you've ever been in a city like LA or New York and seen this beautiful art and wondered how it got where it is, this documentary will be an enlightening experience. It also is an interesting look at the kind of person who would do this, as well as the kind of person who would follow these people around. Guetta himself gets very interesting as the film progresses, and after meeting Banksy, things with him get very interesting. If I were to tell you whether or not you should see it, I would most definitely recommend you see it. It is more than worth watching, and by the end, it will leave you with many interesting questions to consider, along with a great crash course in the world of street art.

And with that, I will need to transition into spoiler talk. So, if you don't want to have the experience ruined for you, WARNING: SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT.

After Baksy is introduced, things start going in a very interesting direction. As one might expect from a man so illusive, Banksy isn't actually in much of the movie. He gives some narration every now and then (with his voice modulated to hide his identity, obviously), but he's in little of the film itself, despite the film ostensibly being about, and even directed by, Banksy. For what little he's onscreen, Banksy serves as the last artist Guetta documents for his proposed film, but instead, he ends up being bitten by the art bug. After an offhand comment by Banksy, he uses some of the techniques he's gathered over his time making his film and starts making his own art. Eventually, he rechristens himself as "Mr. Brainwash" and aims to become the next big name in the art scene, believing he knows exactly what to do to create art and to become mainstream. The film ends on a note that, depending on your outlook, is quite unexpected. I won't spoil it, but when I finished the film, it made me question not only what the film was saying, but my notions on art, on celebrity, and on what makes a true artist. Is Mr. Brainwash and indictment of the art world, or a sign of positive growth? Who decides what art is, anyways? Can art be manufactured?
Part of the reason these questions are so ambiguous is because there's been so much debate about whether the film itself is real or not. While figures who are in the movie like Guetta, Banksy, and Shepard Fairey have all stated that the film is real, many critics and pundits have noted that Mr. Brainwash is just as likely to be some kind of statement by Banksy, and elaborate prank meant as a scathing critique of the art scene he's become so well known in. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that Thierry Guetta is, in fact, Banksy himself. While I'm not here to make some kind of disertation on why Exit Through the Gift Shop is real or not real, it's a talking point that, if anything, amplifies the ambiguity of the questions the film raises. Regardless of how real it is, it's a transformative movie. Is it an elaborate ruse to reveal the very real cynicism in the art world or is it a prime example of the very world that Banksy seeks to warn us all about? As with all art, the interpretation is up to the viewer.

Tony's Score: 9.5/10

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