Saturday, February 5, 2011

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Director: Banksy

A documentary that begins as a study of one subject but turns into something much more abstract, Exit Through the Gift Shop is, at face value, about the renegade art movement of "street art", which has evolved from simple graffiti tagging to, arguably, masterpieces. It begins with Thierry Guetta, a French entrepreneur that settled in Los Angeles with his family, where he soon became obsessed with documenting every moment of his life with his video camera. During restless nights, he would walk the streets of Los Angeles, where he came across street artists who, after finding out he was the cousin of one of their own, Space Invader, granted him unrestricted access to their work and process with the understanding that he was making a documentary about them. This is how he comes to work closely with the elusive Banksy, one of the most prolific and famous artists to come out of the movement. Unfortunately, the film that Guetta produces is unwatchable, which is when the documentary takes an interesting turn, with Banksy at the helm.

As a documentary on street art, Exit Through the Gift Shop is fascinating. It features interviews with many artists and even better, shows their process, which is much more action-packed than that of most other artists. Personally, I'm a huge fan of this movement because its aesthetics, coupled with an enormous amount of cleverness, is a perfect representation of conceptual art. However, the film kind of screeches to a halt two-thirds of the way through, and while the rest was interesting, I couldn't shake the idea that there was something more going on in the film than was being presented; that Exit Through the Gift Shop was becoming less a documentary than a colossal mind screw by Banksy - a performance art piece as clever as one of his tangible pieces, only with a lot more complexity.

Exit Through the Gift Shop, as presented, could be seen as a straightforward documentary, but I really don't think it is. What is it exactly? I have no absolutely no idea - I've been turning it over in my head since I watched it and I can't come up with definite answers, or even full bodied theories. What it definitely is, however, is an exciting film that is more thought-provoking than I ever thought it would be, and though it wasn't as conventional, nor did I like it as much as some of the many other documentaries I've seen the past year, I'm still thinking about this one long after I'd forgotten about the others, and there's something to be said for that.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

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