Trying to watch Exit Through the Gift Shop without keeping an eye out for tongues stuck firmly in cheeks, annoyingly snarky irony, clusterfuck cool moments or world hoodwinking piss takes is impossible. Banksy’s first foray into filmmaking is bound to have three or four sleeves packed full of them, he’s a man used to pulling the wool over people’s eyes and thumbing his nose at the bourgeoisie (whilst embracing their hard cash naturally). EBFS doesn’t review art (we know what we like etc, etc) so we’ll just have to focus on the film and try to separate one from the other.
Ostensibly made to be a documentary about the rise of Street Art and Banksy himself, the story goes that Banksy became so fascinated by the documentarian Thierry Guetta that he suggested that Guetta himself become an artist in his own right. So what starts out as a straight historical documentary, flips over into a personal study and rapidly descends into a fairly obvious fake (not mockumentary) about ripping off the new market for street art and people’s perceptions of it’s artists (no bad thing in principle). Fortunately, Banksy fans, there is still an air of a never ending postcard to himself on show, complimentary as it is to the works and acute social commentary of Banksy’s work.
Guetta himself is plausable enough. Portrayed as an a vintage clothes shop owner in L.A. with a compulsion to videotape everything. He accidentally falls into assisting, and then recording the nefarious street artists at work. He bumbles along, seemingly only tolerated because of his willingness to hold a ladder or lie to the cops, filming the founding artists of the movement. His switch to artist and star of the piece believably raises his ego and he becomes something of a monster. The rest of the artists he filmed do straight to camera pieces about what a demon they’ve spawned but some of them may as well be mugging for effect.
Aiming great big broad swipes at the over commercialisation of street art, people’s gullibility for hype and what it means to be an “artist” feels like the next logical step for Banksy, a man who at best is a skilled satirist and at worst is just a faceless prankster (that’s the promise in paragraph 1 broken). However, by not admitting to the fake, he seems very careful not to burn any bridges to the world that supports him. So the film just becomes “the next Banksy” or “Oh, you’ll never guess what bloody Banksy’s gone and done now” or other eye rolling platitudes.
There is an air of invulnerability to Banksy. Carefully nurturing his anonymity has given him the freedom to work without distraction. This is perfect for the street art game but here, as director, it feels contrived, petty and even annoying. His decision to remain faceless gives the film a non stick feel to criticism, which along with it’s achingly cool portrayal of an achingly cool world gives the film a face that’s sickeningly coy and therefore, eminently punchable. Hmmmmm…..
By the end of this nudge nudge, wink wink, elbows in ribs show, the longing for the opening credits which showed a montage of the ingenuity and stealth that these artists go to to display their work. Funny, bathetic and sticking their fingers up at authority to the strains of Richard Hawley, these people deserve a documentary, not a sarcastic, courageless bleat of conformity.