Exit Through the Gift Shop is one of those movies I've been meaning to see for a while, and as happens, I got sick recently and spent a few days at home during which I watched some movies I've been meaning to see for a while. Exit Through the Gift Shop is a somewhat controversial documentary about street artist Mr. Brain Wash, nom de travail of one Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman living in Los Angeles. He started, the film says, as a used-clothing merchant but became fascinated by street art and graffiti through his cousin, a street artist called Space Invader. Guetta, an obsessive-compulsive filmer of everything around him, started filming street artists, eventually getting to know luminaries of the field such as Shepard Fairey and even the reclusive, legendary Banksy, who directs this movie.
Guetta decides to get on the other side of the camera so to speak and becomes a street artist himself, starting with an illustrated picture of himself and leading to his meteoric rise in the art world after his first big LA show. Despite having referred to Guetta as a friend, Banksy and Fairey greet Guetta's success with derision; they openly mock him and deride his success in what struck me as some very mean-spirited and bitter postscript. But then I remembered that it's Banksy directing himself sounding like a jerk, so that pretty interesting.
Anyway so the controversy around the film is about whether or not the whole thing is a big Banksy prank. Banksy and Fairey swear that it's not for what that's worth. There are plenty of articles online on the subject- just plug Brain Wash and Banksy and prank into your favorite search engine. I think it probably is fiction. There's plenty of close reading of the film and speculation but little in the way of evidence either way- starting with the identity of Guetta, who, depending on your interpretation, is either the real deal, an actor playing a part or Banksy himself. And, you know, if this guy exists and had a store etc., there would be some independent evidence, somewhere. But nobody really addresses that. Either way it's some kind of insight into the art world, the world of street art and the world of subcultures generally. I'll leave it up to you to decide what insight, exactly.
Rating: RENT (the movie equivalent of Backlist)
FTC Disclosure: I viewed this on Netflix streaming.