June 13, 2010
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) *****
Directed by Banksy
Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)- Works on every single level. Frustrating, funny, fascinating. Blows the mind. ***** out of 5
There's not a single discernible fault within this strange documentary which starts out showcasing the movement of "street art" through the lens of Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman who's obsessed with filming everything in his life. The film then takes a dramatic turn towards the end which aims the whole project in a completely different direction which I won't give away because I desperately want as many people to experience this film with the same delightful surprise that I did.
It's hard to think of a trickier film considering that Exit Through the Gift Shop is trying to do so many things, and there's no question that the filmmakers are toying with the audience. Questions are raised and then answered, but we're left wondering whether or not we can trust the answers given. For that matter, is there anyone involved in this whole project that we can trust at all? After all, Banksy the director, who also appears in the film, refuses to have his face photographed, and the whole concept of "street art" is that it's meant to break convention and buck authoritative mandates. Therefore, Exit Through the Gift Shop may itself be a type of "street art," except there's a lot that can be verified considering that the accomplishments of many of these artists are well documented, even going as far as appearing on the cover of LA Weekly. So there is reality within the lie, or there's a lie within reality, or there's no lie at all, or there's clear cut lines between what's true and what's not, or there are no clear cut lines at all and the whole thing is an amalgamation of truth, lies and reality. Perhaps we'll never know what's true and what's not.
My hope is that this film forever remains enigmatic, because as such, it's truly a masterpiece precisely because each viewer can take away from it what he or she wills. Even if one doesn't choose to meditate on the value and meaning of art, at the very least the viewer will undoubtedly be entertained. The structure of the two main plot lines are impeccably crisp. Early on, we're given a completely satisfying overview of the "street art" movement, and then later, when Thierry and Banksy join forces, there's a breathtaking sequence in Disneyland, which stems from a profoundly stupid idea, that's almost terrifying to behold. When the film ultimately changes direction completely in its final act, the whole crazy ordeal is presented so well, and we're left smiling as we puzzle over the freak show that ensues.
I'm not sure exactly what Exit Through the Gift Shop was trying to do to me, but I loved that it did what it did. The film is catching on, and I'm worried that there may be copycat films of this sort. I can almost promise that there will never be as successful a documentary that blurs the lines between truth and lies as this original, perfect mind game. Yet, a copycat film almost fits within the "street art" milieu, so perhaps the next of this type is an inevitability.