FILM REVIEW: Exit Through The Gift Shop
Banksy reveals his pièce de résistance: say bonjour to the bumbling Mr Brainwash
They've been painted over by faceless council workers, used as the subject for one of the best selling art books ever produced (Wall and Piece) and sold for millions in galleries across the world. Now the subversive stencillings of the enigmatic Banksy have arrived on the silver screen, courtesy of an unhinged moustachioed Frenchman, Thierry Guetta.
Los Angeles shopkeeper Guetta fell into the underground world of street-art through filming his cousin 'Space Invader', a major player in the 1980s and 90s. Following Invader on his late night missions, Guetta filmed the artist pasting tiled mosaics (characters inspired by the computer game Space Invaders) onto innercity walls in Paris and other cities around the world.
Guetta then befriended other heavy hitters, including Shepard Fairey (Obey Giant) before a chance encounter with the elusive Banksy himself.
A disciple from the start, Exit Through The Gift Shop shows that Guetta will do anything for the mysterious Englishman, including helping to document some of his riskiest stunts, such as the placing of a life-size replica of a Guantanamo Bay detainee in a Disneyland theme park ride.
Banksy allows the cameraman to follow him as he works, presumably to ensure that his street art is documented and remembered long after it gets painted over. Guetta's compulsive recording eventually reveals him as more voyeur than filmmaker. In one particularly revealing scene, when Guetta has finished recording, he dumps his tapes unlabelled into boxes with hundreds of others.
When put on the spot by Banksy to produce the documentary he has been promising for so long, Guetta shows the artist an unwatchable film of frantic jumbled footage, entitled Life Remote Control. With voice digitally disguised, the hooded figure of Banksy refers to Guetta as 'maybe just someone with mental problems who happened to have a camera'.
Banksy says he will recut the tapes, but in a twist puts the focus on Guetta, telling him to create some street art of his own and put on a ‘small show’. At this point, the focus of Exit Through The Gift Shop shifts to chronicle Guetta's transformation into LA's hottest new street artist, MBW, aka Mr Brainwash – a reference to Banksy's overnight celebrity status following his Barely Legal exhibition in 2006.
But Mr Brainwash doesn't even make his own art. Instead he hires a team to create work for him, ripping-off iconic ideas by the likes of Banksy, Warhol and Fairey, which causes the wise-cracking Banksy to quip in his dry voice-over, 'Andy Warhol was replicating images to show they were meaningless, and now, thanks to Mr Brainwash, they’re definitely meaningless.'
The foolish but charismatic Frenchman steals the show though, with shameless self-promotion and pearls of wisdom equal only to those of Spinal Tap legend David St Hubbins, or Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat.
To view Exit Through The Gift Shop simply as a comedic mockumentary is doing it an injustice, however. Styled as 'the world's first street art disaster movie,' Exit works as both a vehicle to slam critics who label Banksy a sellout, and a statement on the art establishment by one of the world's most subversive artists.
The mixture of half-truths and exciting footage, featuring after-dark street artist activities (including police bust-ups and scaling dangerous heights) is only outdone by the terrifying revelation of how some hype and recommendation from the right people can create huge success and riches for a bumbling rip-off artist like MBW. We are told that MBW's Life Is Beautiful exhibits sold in LA for $1 million.
Whether or not MBW’s intentions are sincere or part of an ongoing live art performance piece by Team Banksy is unimportant. Much like the politically humorous, anti-establishment motivation of Banksy's work, the main point of Exit may be to confuse many a cinema-goer. Banksy fans can rest assured that their hero's mystic remains intact.
However, Mr Brainwash continues to make a lot of money out of very bad art – whether he is serious about it or not – and that's the terrifying thing. 'Maybe it means art is a bit of a joke,' Banksy says plainly. 'Mr Brainwash didn’t play by the rules, but there aren’t supposed to be rules, right?'
Exit Through The Gift Shop is screening at Queen's Film Theatre Belfast, March 12-25. Book tickets at the QFT website and check out more of Banksy's exploits here.