Exit Through the Gift Shop



Film, documentary, prankumentary, or elaborate hoax, it doesn’t much matter; THIS was the best movie of 2010 (please note that I’m making this claim on the day the “Academy” released their nominations with “Exit” a frontrunner for Best Documentary. . . saw it the previous night).

Legendary street artist Banksy created a film that has so many compelling elements that it might have easily gotten bogged down or veered into overload. Except that by maintaining a coherent narrative throughout, he manages to weave together all of the distinct threads into a beautiful. . . rug? I don’t know, it’s something artistic for sure, but I doubt many people will be able to determine exactly what.

The premise is that a small business owner in LA around the turn of the millenium becomes obsessed with video-taping. On a family trip to France, he discovers that his cousin is a well-known street artist named Invader, and he accompanies him on some of his tagging missions. From there, he becomes obsessed with the entire street art movement, continuously hunting down and filming all of the best-known artists the world over. The most famous, Banksy, remains elusive and anonymous until a lucky break from one of his artist acquaintances.

Here the movie really picks up steam as we see Thierry’s and Banksy’s friendship form. But then the entire film takes a strange turn when after viewing the terrible “documentary” on street art that Thierry has finally prepared, Banksy persuades him to give up recording and turn to street art himself. He does this mainly in order to stall Thierry while Banksy finishes putting together the footage into a presentable movie. What happens afterward is amazing and hilarious, and the social commentary is priceless.

(SPOILERS) I tend to think that the entire film is a hoax, including the “character” of Thierry Gautta and his alter ego Mr. Brainwash. The entire concept serves as a platform to lambast the pretentious art world for its arbitrary judgment on what does or does not constitute “high art.”

Assuming it’s a hoax, Banksy effectively created a caricature of an idiot artist, then got many important so-and-so’s to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the resulting crap art. In the process, he highlighted the scary power that clever branding and marketing can have on a mindless horde of consumers.

Even if it’s not a hoax, Banksy still comes off as brilliant by pulling the various themes of the movie into a coherent narrative. The editing and style are pitch-perfect, and the selection of Rhys Ifans as narrator works well.

What’s more, even if all of this fascinating commentary were not going on, the essential topic of the movie – street art – would still be more than compelling enough for a casual viewer who knows nothing on the subject.

In fact, if there’s any complaint I have, it’s just that the early scenes of the various artists are so rich with imagery and satire that you can’t possibly take everything in, due to how quickly the individual works flash by on screen. I recommend liberal use of the pause button for this very purpose (or you can just get one of Banksy’s books).

So yes, great documentary, great subject, great treatment, but really? Best film of 2010? Better than “Black Swan”? “Inception”? “Social Network”? “True Grit”? “Winter’s Bone”? The rest? Yes. Well, I didn’t see the rest but I’d be shocked if “127 Hours” or “The King’s Speech” could beat it. And “The Fighter” and “The Kids Are Alright” probably shouldn’t have even been nominated. Maybe “Toy Story 3” would compare. (And of course “True Grit” was actually kinda sucky.) But I digress. . .

YES. Better than all of those. THE BEST. See it. Now.

25 January 2011

Other Reviews for “Gift Shop”


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