Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

Update: “Exit Through The Gift Shop” is nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Academy Awards ceremony Feb. 27, 2011.

If you haven’t seen a Banksy signature piece in any urban centres, now you can watch a Banksy film, Exit Through The Gift Shop, ‘directed’ by the elusive street artist himself, and legitimately shown in theatres near you. And a big spoiler: no, you don’t get to see his face… only a dark silhouette inside a hoodie, voice distorted… or, maybe that’s not even Banksy himself.

The infamous and secretive graffiti artist has been claimed by some as the instigator of the ‘street art movement’.  Believed to be based in Bristol, England, Banksy has made his presence known by spray painting his articulately constructed stencilled work on walls in the most unlikely places of the world.  The following one is found on the high, separating wall in the West Bank:

The May 10 issue of TIME magazine has included Banksy in the poll of 100 Most Influential People In The World.  His silent graffiti are clear political and social statements, thought-provoking messages imbued with whimsical and imaginary images.  His works have been auctioned off at Sotheby’s, including the murdered telephone booth on a London street.  Sign of the time: the triumph of the cell phone.

At the time of the film’s premiere screening earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, Banksy made his presence known by contributing to the city scene with his notorious images.  Here’s one of them:


The documentary Exit Through The Gift Shop, ironically, is more about the filmmaker wannabe Thierry Guetta “Terry” who started off filming street artists from Paris, London, and back to his home city L.A.  His life came to a drastic turn as he, by chance, was introduced to the underground Banksy, and started tagging along, capturing Banksy’s creative process in his camcorder.

What turned him around was Banksy’s advice that he wouldn’t be a good filmmaker.  That was motivation enough for Terry, who re-directed his energy towards his new ambition: to be a street artist himself.  So the film is exactly that, the first part is the exhilarating depiction of the colorful underground world of street artists from Europe to LA, hunt down and tagged along by Terry the videotaping enthusiast.  But the film dims into a lesser light when the latter half shifts to focus on Terry himself, who, without much self-discernment, churned out obviously second-rate works which prompted Banksy to declare never to help anyone produce a doc about street art again.  We learn that as the end credits roll.

Unlike the anonymous and elusive Banksy, Terry is a self-promoting opportunist, calling himself Mr. Brainwash, his productions MBW. He hired staff to help him produce works of pop fusions, tacky, Kinko re-mixes of Warhol reproductions, while at the same time, reaping millions of dollars from their sales.

And with that Banksy cleverly throws out to us the obvious questions: What is art, or maybe, When is art, art?  And, Who can be an artist?

As I watched the first part about these highly skilled and agile urban legends, reminiscence of none other than Phillippe Petit of Man On Wire, I was entertained and amazed at the artistic skills and versatility involved. But of course, these are less dangerous, more down-to-earth feats, nevertheless the spirit of Phillippe Petit lingers.  As fellow artist Shepard Fairey writes in TIME magazine about Banksy:

He doesn’t ignore boundaries; he crosses them to prove their irrelevance.

So naturally, the film leads us to that menacing debate: Street art or vandalism?  Here’s Banksy’s own take on this issue, quoted in LA Weekly:

“I’m not so interested in convincing people in the art world that what I do is ‘art,’ ” Banksy says. “I’m more bothered about convincing people in the graffiti community that what I do is really vandalism.”

… mmm interesting thought… but then again, as elusive as his persona.

Exit Through The Gift Shop tags along this subheading: “The World’s First Street Art Disaster Movie”.  The disaster apparently refers to the public’s indiscriminate taste for Terry’s MBW works.  However, it probes further into a deeper layer, the distinction between ‘good’ art and ‘bad’ ones. I like Shepard Fairey’s take on the Mr. Brainwash phenomenon:

“Don’t be annoyed by him. Make him irrelevant, make something better.”

If we can all agree on what is ‘better’.  Take for example, among Banksy’s works, I like this one the best… No, it doesn’t reflect Arti’s own personal habit.  It appeared on a Camden street, and later met the fate of being cleaned up by order of the Camden City Council:


‘Directed’ by Banksy himself, the doc is narrated by Rhys Ifans, an award-winning British actor (Notting Hill‘s Spike).  It’s entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking.  This is the closest to an original Banksy.

~~~ Ripples


With the film’s premiere showing in Toronto, guess Banksy has also made his debut on the walls there:


Thanks to a reader from England, I was given the link to this, a must-see:



Photo Sources:

Banksy on West Bank Wall: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/4748063.stm

Banksy at Sundance, Park City, Utah: http://festival.sundance.org/2010/blog/entry/banksys_missive/

Murdered Telephone Booth: http://www.laweekly.com/2010-04-08/art-books/banksy-revealed/2

Maid Sweeps Under: Wikipedia Commons