Did the events of this movie actually happen? Did a French guy with a camera who followed graffiti artists on their dark, dangerous expeditions really become an overnight junk art sensation? Well, the Academy Motion Picture Arts & Sciences seems to think so because they nominated this film for Best Documentary of 2010. That doesn’t really make it that much more believable, does it?
Exit Through The Gift Shop is really the story of Thierry Guetta, an eccentric thrift-fashion store owner with a humble family who spontaneously decides to record everything to videocassette. People give him odd looks, but generally embrace the fact that he always has a camera on him. On a trip to Europe, he rendezvous with his old friend Invader, a small-time street artist who pastes mini-mosaics of Space Invaders characters on Parisian facades. Thierry loves these thrilling nights out (even helping the artists as they work) and starts following a bunch of LA artists, working up the ladder to Stuart Fairey (this is how you know him) and eventually the elusive British street artist Banksy (and this is how you know him) who opens his studio to him. Thierry ends up collecting thousands of hours of these escapades and Banksy decides to take them all and make a documentary – namely, the one we see here – after Thierry’s effort completely fails.
From beginning to end you’re in a state of unrest about the likelihood of it at all. Some of it seems too far fetched to happen, but there’s enough historic evidence to back other parts. The film’s not-quite verisimilitude lingers with you throughout, ultimately framing an incredible story. Watching Thierry enter a Kinko’s with a camcorder as Fairey sorts out massive prints of his art ready to be plastered onto popular public facings is a hoot. Watching him become his own street artist – Mr. Brainwash – by hiring a team of digital artists to Photoshop bleached Marilyn Monroe hair-dos onto celebrities, framing them and placing them in an expansive gallery of work he didn’t produce is almost jarring. To see him succeed? It seems as though Banksy is taking the piss on himself, playing the primo talking head, cloaked in darkness, voice distorted, providing the backbone to Thierry’s drastic transformation.
A film that ponders ‘what is art? is pretentious on far too many levels, but this is a cautionary story far too good to pass up.