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Archive for September, 2011

Banksy, the film's director, never shows his face.

Banksy. Mr. Brainwash. Shepard Fairey. Borf. Buffmonster. Never heard of them? Yeah, me neither. Don’t feel too out of the loop. Neither had French shop owner Thierry Guetta. That’s until his obsession for recording everything changed his life one night in Los Angeles, when he discovered the underground world of street art.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary that unmasks these street graffiti artists, hidden by the darkness of night as they scavenge for blank canvases on the walls of the world’s largest metropolitan areas. Though the story seems to be about the artists in front of the camera, the mystery lies with the man behind the lens.

Thierry Guetta a.k.a. Mr. Brainwash

Guetta is a stereotypical Frenchman with his strong accent, well-fed belly, and an unruly 18th century beard. Never had street artists’ work been recorded in progression, but they allow the eccentric man to capture artistic moments in time that will soon be erased. He’s there every dangerous step of the way. Guetta climbs buildings, jumps roofs, and hangs off ladders. He’s a French Jimmy Olsen as he captures his superheroes on film.

Banksy, the film’s director, is the most elusive street artist. No one has ever seen his face. He’s beyond just a man. He’s a legend. He’s a “Robin Hood,” as Guetta calls him. Banksy gives Guetta the opportunity to enter his world and record his work, and he captures public reaction to his art as his legend grows. But soon the question that was plaguing my mind throughout the film is asked. What is he going to do with all of his footage?

In the logical minds of the street artists, Guetta is going to use the film to create a documentary. He confirms it himself. Well, sort of. Little do they know that Guetta has a completely different plan for all of his film: to sit in a box with hundreds of other dusty unwatched tapes. His passion is to record each moment of his life, but he is not a documentary filmmaker. When Banksy asks Guetta to finally create the movie, he soon learns that Guetta’s passion is more of a psychological compulsion.

His film is terrible. It’s as erratic as its filmmaker. Banksy thinks he can make a better one. He suggests to Guetta to focus elsewhere and put on a small art show. Scaled back doesn’t suit Guetta and his larger than life character. He creates an alter ego of his own, Mr. Brainwash, just like his noir wall avengers he’s stalked and admired for so many years. Longing to impress his fellow artists, he puts on an art show never seen before. I mean that in a good way and in a bad way.

He slightly alters other famous artists’ work and makes it his own, and somehow it’s still considered original. Is he a cunning conman, or does he honestly believe in the integrity of his work? It seems he does.

Me in front of Obama image famously created by Shepard Fairey

Throughout Exit, there were many moments when I thought, this guy can’t be serious right? This is a joke. Wait, this is not a joke. He is so unbecoming that one would never think this buffoon could fool people into buying his art. But it’s beyond just his art. It’s his entire persona. He’s such a cliché that the farce seems too obvious. Am I missing something?

But then again, it isn’t that hard to believe. All of these talented artists fell for his dramatic gab and passion for filming, so why can’t the masses fall for his façade on canvas? That’s what makes this film so entertaining. I don’t know if he’s seriously kidding or not kidding, seriously.
 
Exit is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a while. Banksy is a genius, the story and the look into the process of street art are fascinating, but Mr. Brainwash is the one to watch. If Guetta is acting, then he’s a brilliant artist. If he’s not, well, he’s still an artist… right?
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