Exit Through the Gift Shop is one of those rare documentaries that just work. In multiple scenarios and over a fairly extended timeline it encapsulates just one strong message, it is grounded onto its characters who make fascinating subjects, a clear narrative that evolves as it goes, so while I entered this film with limited knowledge of its nature, I knew of Banksy’s involvement and that it would touch upon a few aspects of street art, I had no idea it would be such a well-researched, insightful commentary on the art scene and artists.
Directed by Banksy and nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary, the film opens with a Thierry Guetta, who begins as a curious documentarian of select street artists, blessed with the access to this “legal grey area” notoriously filled with people who prefer anonymity, he trails them around in the nightime, before encountering Banksy himself, and from here things take a very exciting turn.
I spent four years in Melbourne, a city that claims itself a centre for art and creativity, but like anywhere geographically it is an industry populated by members with mixed intentions, I’ve always been annoyed by the hardcore idealists, who usually possess a shallow knowledge of economics or government and seek rebellion as a kind of honor badge to their self-inflated reputation, their elitist attitude and the precocious way they carry themselves.
Banksy, who directs and inevitably controls the voice of this film, follows Thierry’s rise from a background figure to full-on fame-hungry so-called artist, makes Thierry a character you’d feel inclined to be annoyed by, mock, he could be, the worst type of artist imaginable, someone obsessed with the finances, marketing, hype and ideology of it, builds a complex, fancy and distracting outer layer for an art product that ultimately proves little to no skill, an art form sustained on pure imitation, sensationalism and controversy.
Banksy you could say, retains his anonymity for similar reasons, it is essential for his name and popularity to survive, but stripped of this his work and ideas are still terrific I think, they contain socio-political ideas that makes anyone from the academic to common man think, and this point of view is normally presented in some innovative, unexpected way.
So these two, Banksy and Thierry, develop into the two arguments for the film, two artists, one legitimate, the other a con. Anyone who has been to even a single gallery showing, spoken to an aspiring artist, brushed both bad and good of its society, will appreciate how aggressive and opinionated this documentary is, it is unusual for such quality to be something you value, but the characters, footage and story honestly speaks for itself.
Creation, one not tainted by glimpses of a bland inspiration, unaffected by a personal vapidness or self-importance, driven truly by original ideas and executed in a unique, professional technique, is rare. This documentary has succeded in become a conversation piece, there are so many angles that welcome discussion, and as a whole it is less of an piece you see in an exhibition that has declared its own merits and price, but instead starves for participation.