Exit Through the Gift Shop (Review)

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
(4/16/10; Documentary, Comedy)
Thierry Guetta, Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Invader, André
DIR: Banksy
MPAA: R for some language.
1 hour 27 mins
BOX: $3,291,250

A fascinating rumination on the concept and perception of art, alternative artist Banksy’s acclaimed doc arrived with plenty of baggage. Taken at face value, it appears to be about street (graffiti) artists and a 44-year-old French videographer named Thierry Guetta, who follows them around (he videotapes everything else in his life too).

But then, it seems as if the project is hijacked by Banksy (appearing in digital cloak with an obscured voice) as he follows Guetta’s seemingly asinine attempts to enter the art market under the moniker Mr. Brainwash.

In a twist, the art world responds to Mr. Brainwash’s Warhol-esque paintings by making him a superstar (Madonna commissioned the artist to design her Celebration album cover). If art is like beauty, and in the eye of the beholder, then Exit Through the Gift Shop can be interpreted many ways: as a deconstruction of art vs. commerce masquerading as art itself.

And then the final twist: rumors that the mysterious Banksy is really the crazy Frenchman on screen and that his creation is little more than an Andy Kaufman-style masquerade. Either way, there is much to chew on here, from What It All Means to the audacity of exposing the contemporary art world to be made up of trendy sycophants who will buy any piece of crap because someone else called it art.

Hence, the title. Have you ever gone on a theme park ride or taken a bus tour, then had to exit through the gift shop? It’s their last chance to sell you something superficial, which says a lot right there.

Gift Shop was nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars, making one wonder if Banksy would actually show up. Arguably more entertaining than anything on the actual show was the fact that Banksy-esque artwork started popping up all over Los Angeles in the weeks prior. (Paranoid)

— DENNIS WILLIS

Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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