Ever since the birth of Style Wars (1983), there have been many graffiti documentaries that have tried to capture the essence of street art. Many doe-eyed paint jockeys have crossed through the annals of street fame, with very few achieving commercial success. Illustrious vandal Banksy has given us the natural evolution of the graffiti documentary with Exit Through the Gift Shop, a tale of one man’s journey through the trials and tribulations of street art that serves as a cautionary tale about that sweet b*tch we all call “fame”.
Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary that sets out to tell the story of street art but ends up becoming a different beast altogether. Started by Thierry Guetta, the original intention of Exit Through the Gift Shop was to document the several contributors to the world of street art, namely illustrious British street artist Bansky. Instead, this documentary becomes more about the man behind the camera, a wily Frenchman who has become obsessed with capturing everything and anything on film.
It’s difficult to review a documentary because it’s hard to have artistic license with reality. Still, for someone who assumingly has had no experience in film, Bansky has put together quite the documentary. Interviews and footage are placed strategically along with narrative in a way that the enigma that is Thierry Guetta is unwrapped with masterful pace.
The subject matter makes for compelling material, as the odd yet loveable Thierry is as good a central character as one could ask for. His passion and intrigue for street art serves as an extension of our intrigue, making his journey our journey as well. The interesting world of graffiti and street art is such a beautiful yet chaotic backdrop that offers such a great sandbox for our unlikely protagonist to play in. He’s foolish, crazy, and at some moments just plain stupid, making for a lot of quirky yet hilarious bits. By the third act, however, this harmless dope becomes a monster of sorts, making his transformation and shift of tone all the more compelling and something not normally seen in other documentaries. The third act is what essentially makes this documentary so intriguing, and it is also responsible for the film’s biggest controversy.
Bansky is mainly known for the stunts he pulls on the public, most being some sort of comment on society. With that being said, a lot of people assume that this film (namely the third act) is yet another elaborate hoax masterminded by Bansky. Now I wont go through what transpires in the third act, but basically the third act is an alarming testament to the commercialization of street art and the absurdity of the art community. Though Bansky has gone on record to assure us that every bit is true, I can understand why most would think that it’s a hoax. After all, the subject matter and the events that transpire are so rich and absurd, it’s almost maddening to think that it actually happened.
Still, part of the films draw is figuring out whether or not it’s reality. Though I personally believe it to be true, I believe the film would be just as entertaining if it were a hoax, as the reactions of the art community is as every bit as absurd as the hoax itself. Even if this weren’t a documentary and was instead a narrative woven together by Bansky, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a strong story that has a beginning, middle, and end and an incredible cast of characters.
Overall Score: 8.50 – Spectacular. (Movies that score between 8.50 and 9.00 are some of the best films its genre has ever created, and fans of any genre will thoroughly enjoy them.)
Whether or not the third act is a prank, the previous acts still serve as a testament to life, passion, art, commercialism and filmmaking. Exit Through the Gift Shop tackles an array of subjects and not only provides depth and insight to this world of graffiti, but it does so in a maniacal and entertaining way. It’s constant shift in the main subject as well as mood and attitude is the perfect storm of intrigue, so much so that it’s validity has come to question. Real or not, it’s entertaining and somewhat alarming, and at the end you walk away learning something. It’s the goal of most any documentary, and Exit Through the Gift Shop executes this goal masterfully.
Glenn Morris: 8.05 – Great. Exit Through the Gift Shop isn’t just cheeky fun, it also exposes a link between marketing and how people register creative quality, while helping us understand art by presenting that which is definitely not.