Is this filmmaking debut from infamously anonymous street artist Banksy a hoax? Does it matter? These two questions will undoubtedly colour your viewing of this suitably opaque 'documentary'. Banksy is certainly no stranger to controversy, so it should come as no surprise that the faceless man behind such stunts as the West Bank Wall or the painted elephant (or just look at his website’s homepage) should fancy messing with the minds of his captive cinema audience.
Without digressing into just how ‘meta’ Exit Through the Gift Shop is (considering the title alone could get you started), the story follows one affable French expat by the name of Thierry Guetta, the owner of a vintage clothing store in LA and budding filmmaker. Guetta’s familial connection to Paris's famed street artist Invader leads the garrulous Frenchman down the dark alleys of street artists, where he befriends all manner of ‘graffiti’ luminaries including Shepard Fairey (the man behind Barack Obama’s election poster) and, eventually, Banksy himself. What follows is an increasingly bizarre documentation and commodification of street art as Guetta moves from behind the camera to transform himself into Mr. Brainwash. It’s an amusing, instructive and disturbing evolution and one that absolutely rubbishes the modern art movement in its wake.
Narrated by Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill) with some pointedly witty (and surely scripted) soundbites from Banksy, (regardless of its agenda) this is a well-paced and sophisticated debut. Indeed, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a film that needs to be seen to be disbelieved.Published on Concrete Playground
Australian release date: 24 June 2010 (limited)