Exit Through The Gift Shop (DVD)
Here's a curious piece for you - a documentary about street art, supposedly directed by ultra-anonymous and ultra-famous graffiti artist Banksy; which starts out as a documentary being made about Banksy by an obsessive frenchman Thierry Guetta; but turns out to be a documentary about Guetta by Banksy, using Guetta's own ... footage.
Confused? You won't be. You may have your own opinions on Banksy, good or bad, but it's hard to deny that the man has made an extremely assured and thoughtful film debut with "Exit Through the Gift Shop."
Like many others, I went into this documentary expecting a straightforward and self-aggrandising film about Banksy. Banksy is virtually ubiquitous these days, and I've always been unable to shake off a feeling of unease about him, and certainly have a strong ambiguity towards his work.
On one hand, I'm suspicious of his arch sloganeering and his occasional pandering to trendy political views, which can encompass anything in the scope of Banksy's anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anarchy with a very small "a" apparent worldview.
But then - there are moments when I can't help but delight at some of his images, and I prefer his less overtly political stencils, and prefer the ones where he uses the environment around him to make a visual pun - I liked the maid lifting up the wall to sweep dust underneath; or the double yellow lines that veer off the road, across the pavement and up a wall to form a flower.
So, a Banksy film. After a nice opening montage of graffiti artists doing their thing, we are introduced to "Banksy" - a guy with his face hidden in the shadow of his hoody, and a digitally altered voice. Banksy, with some degree of modesty, claims the man the film eventually turns out to be about is more interesting than him...
Thierry Guetta is a French immigrant living in LA with his wife and kids, where he makes a comfortable living running a vintage second hand clothes store.
Thierry seems an amiable, friendly type, and instantly seems comical, with his gigantic sideburns, tubby frame and silly little hat. But there is something blank about his eyes, and we soon learn Thierry has an obsession - he films his whole life with his camcorder, and stores the tapes in a haphazard collection which he never labels, let alone watches back.
Thierry's life takes a new course when he visits family in France and finds out his cousin is the street artist Invader, whose shtick is placing mosaic aliens from the ancient "Space Invaders" video game in locations around the world.
He accompanies his cousin as he goes about his nocturnal work, and is later introduced to Shepard Fairey, another street artist famous for his mock-totalitarian "Obey" campaign, featuring wrestler Andre the Giant, and the "Hope" poster for Barack Obama.
Fairey is a little puzzled by Thierry's enthusiasm and relentless filming, but finds the Frenchman a willing assistant and lookout as he goes about his work on the city's walls and rooftops. Thierry also films a number of other street artists, and announces his intention to make a documentary about Street Art. But he is missing one famous British street artist in particular...Banksy.
The two eventually meet, and the film gets stranger from there, as Thierry first completes his documentary, and then becomes a street artist himself.
By the end, the big question sticking out is - what is art? Banksy and Shepard Fairey seem slightly bitter by their hand in Thierry's eventual success as "Mr Brainwash", because they've devoted years to honing their craft while Thierry just flung a load of cash at a Warhol-like studio. But does that make Mr Brainwash's "art" any less legitimate than Fairey's or Banksy's?
The latter in particular has been provoking the "But is it art?" question for years. Banksy says at one point: "Warhol took cultural icons and repeated them until they became meaningless, but in an iconic way. Thierry made them really meaningless."
True, there is a complete witlessness to Mr Brainwash's images compared to Banksy, but both wouldn't exist without Warhol. For anyone to "get" pop art, they need to have some awareness of the culture around them, and their appreciation of the painting or image is informed by all they already know about the world around them.
Take for example Banksy's image of a policeman searching Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz", reaching for her picnic hamper, while the look on Judy Garland's face is suitably worried about what he might find. The initial juxtaposition of riot helmeted copper with "innocent" young girl from an old family movie is humorous enough; but then we also know of Judy Garland's unfortunate trouble with drugs throughout her life, which perhaps hints at what the policeman might be looking for.
Banksy, if his work isn't art, then at least it's great pop art, and falls into the same category as Chuck Jones and Terry Gilliam.
Like some of Jones' more experimental and post-modern "Looney Tunes", Banksy is aware his audience is aware of the "frame" or "canvas" he's using, which allows him to turn the meaningless (derelict buildings, shabby, peeling walls) into something meaningful.
And, like Gilliam's surreal, free association animations in "Monty Python's Flying Circus". there is a kind of nostalgic, retro conformity to the images Banksy uses for his stencils.
"Exit Through the Gift Shop" features some fine footage of street artists going about their work, often by dangerously climbing out of windows and over rooftops, and avoiding the police as they go.
It also turns into a very interesting character study of Thierry Guetta. Here's a man who films his whole life, but never watches it back. He has a normal looking wife and kids, so he can't be that crazy, but it's clear his obsessions run deep.
By the time he gambles everything he has on staging an elaborate LA exhibition, he has learned all the techniques of street art, and can produce copious amounts of images without actually having any talent or feel for the medium.
In some ways, he reminds me of Raymond Babbitt, Dustin Hoffman's autistic character in "Rain Man" - who can recite Abbott & Costello's "Who's on First?" routine perfectly, but without realizing it's actually supposed to be funny.
And the final irony of "Exit Through the Gift Shop" is people show up and pay tens of thousands of dollars for Mr Brainwash's crass, stream-of-consciousness artwork. It seems these days all you have to do is spend enough money and tell people they're looking at art for them to believe it...
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Exit Through The Gift Shop (DVD)
Star - Banksy Run-Time - 87 minutes Certificate - 15 Country - USA Awards - Oscar nomination Year - 2010 ----------------------- It's noticeable that in recession modern art has lost its shock value and become all rather main-stream and safe, purely so the artists can flog it, one presumes. ... The corporate buyers snapping up 'Bright Pink Mop and Bucket' for their banks lavish HQ reception considered rather bad taste these days and so the modern art market has collapsed, one vulgar indulgence too many it seems. For me most modern art should quite be inserted back up the creator's backside. And for this documentary movie its just how far being the central question in this fascinating and intriguing documentary, created and directed by Banksy, the infamous graffiti artist.
Of late street and graffiti art has fallen into this lucrative and nonsense modern art market and making a nice living for the most notorious graffiti artistes, but the taggers themselves always refuting claims that they do it for the money, the point being that the subterfuge and the political statement of the work is what makes it art. They also have to pay the bills for their loft apartments and so maybe they have to produce commercial stuff for that reason. But once Banskys' installation pieces and politically and socially aware graffiti popped up around our important cities and got the art house crowd really intrigued his stuff quickly gained value, even if it was on a public toilet wall in Clapham, inspiring other noted street artists to hold shows of their own and rent galleries to shift product.
This film suggests a look at the evolution of that street art over the last decade or so, from graffiti tagging to Turner Prize, captured on the hand-held camera of eccentric Frenchman Thierry Guetta, an immigrant shopkeeper and home movie fan living in Los Angeles. Because he got all the big street art players on film his work had retrospective value and so this highly entertaining and watchable film evolved out of it, and Banksy's involvement insuring it got great publicity and an eventual Oscar nomination in the Best Documentary category last year, that nom no doubt the Academy's carrot to tempt him to reveal himself to accept the Oscar on live TV. It didn't go on to win and he didn't show up but it's absorbing and entertaining all the same.
Banksy ... Himself
Thierry Guetta ... Himself
Debora Guetta ... Herself
Monsieur Andre ... Himself
Zeus ... Himself
Shepard Fairey ... Himself
Ron English ... Himself
Caledonia Curry ... Herself (as Swoon)
Borf ... Himself
Buffmonster ... Himself
We meet Thierry Guetta, very French and a rather odd looking chap with a pot belly and sideburns, his haircut done by the council. Thierry lives in L.A with his world weary wife Deborah and two young kids, the couple running a successful fashion store. Thierry's hobby has always been to film pretty much everything and everywhere with his cumbersome on the shoulder movie camera, inviting a few choice comments and curiosity from passers by, and the occasional right hook from his subjects. One day back in 1999 he captures some graffiti artistes doing their thing and is immediately hooked on this exciting and furtive rebellion, a man called 'Space Invader' pasting up small collages of space invader faces from old Rubik Cubes his prime subject.
Making friends with people with names like Borf, Buffmonster and Zeus is not a good idea on Hollywood Blvd, but they seemed to accept him as he builds the confidence of that secretive street art community and soon their unofficial biographer, street art king Shepard Fairey having Thierry follow him around during his graffiti stunts to help him really get to know the big names on the scene. But Thierry wants to meet the main man, Banksy, but extremely hard to get hold of as the man himself wants to remain the complete rebel, incognito to all and so a true artist. But one day in 2005 our Thierry gets a phone call from Fairey in Los Angeles, wondering whether Thierry would like to be camera-in-chief for an English chap from Bristol called Banksy. Monsieur Guetta is ecstatic with the surprise call and races over to meet him, all this documented on film, of course.
As the pair learn each others confidence, convincing the graffiti legend he is a genuine filmmaker, Banksy sets about bringing his art to America, including a Guantanamo style stunt at the Walt Disney theme park that gets Thierry arrested, also caught on film.
Although Banksy can tolerate the little runt of a Frenchman he soon begins to haunt him. So Banksy decided to keep Thierry busy by instructing him to put down the camera and unpack all his boxes and boxes of footage - all 10,000 tapes and discs of it - to make a movie about the history of street art. But the project is a disaster and so the Last Exit from the Gift Shop project began, Banksy taking over directing and editing duties.
Banksy: "hmmm... You know... it was at that point that I realized that maybe Thierry wasn't actually a film maker, and he was maybe just someone with mental problems who happened to have a camera".
Down in the dumps, Thierry decides to become the frustrated artist he clearly is, throwing his heart and soul into his 'work' and becoming 'Mr Brainwash', starting to paste up his own stickers and stencils around town to announce his arrival on the scene. Thierry being Thierry doesn't do things by half, and employs lots of people to do a Warhol style production line of what he thinks modern art is, flicking through the modern art catalogue and mish-mashing it all together, even though he has no experience of 'creating'. Then, rather bizarrely, just from a single Banksy quote he uses to plug his show on the poster, Thierry starts to gets serious positive publicity from the L.A art establishment and so, just maybe, the new sensation of the modern art world has arrived, much to Banksy's amazement...
Banksy: "Most artists take years to develop their style; Thierry seemed to miss out on all those bits".
Although this film never sets out to prove whether modern art has any value or relevance or not, it does exactly that, and deliciously so in the final scenes. If the hype is laid on thick and deep enough in the arts and entertainment world people clearly will believe it and behave like sheep and go with the flow. I'm not saying Banksy is the fraud of the piece as I quite admire some of his stuff, even though most of its traced from stencils and easy to do, but the fact a little squat Frenchman can get the publicity and plaudits for what he achieves in the film raises some eyebrows. It's at this point you begin to question what you are watching even though everyone involved is tightlipped whether this is a documentary or a mockumentry. But it's crystal clear at the end of the film that modern art is only as good as its celebrated recommendations.
'Banksy' remains anonymous throughout the film under a hood for his darkened face talking head contributions in the film but has commented about the documentary (more mocumentry) in the trendy press for confirmation he was indeed behind it. But he makes it quite clear in the film (not that convincingly) that he is not comfortable with the fact his graffiti and street art has become a commodity and the exact opposite of what street art was supposed to be about, perhaps resentful of those who have accepted the big bucks and so creating work just for money, this film, maybe, his subtle opinion on that betrayal. Saying that his words and putdowns in the film feel scripted and it again pushes you towards the feeling this is a clever hoax by a clever chap. The fact some of the characters in the documentary have names like Fairey and Thierry and Caledonian Curry suggest an in-joke from frame one, enough people in the industry in on the joke and perhaps why it didn't win the Oscar. There's a telling quote from one of Banksy lackeys near the end of the film that seems to sum up the ambivalence and mischievous mystery of the film:
"I think the joke is on... I don't know who the joke's on - really. I don't even know if there is a joke".
Whether the film is a brilliant scam or not it's a clever piece of modern art its own right for that reason alone, no doubt set up by Bansky to mock the establishment he often rails against in his work. Yes the outcome of the film could have some unexpected credence to the director with the realization that anyone can indeed be famous by selling crap as art but I suspect he already knew that. What it joyously does do is exposes the pseudo posers and pretentious middle-class types that seem to see more in modern art than most, say the people who go out to work to make a living, this modern art indulgence somewhat irritating to normal people.
That aside its fascinating stuff and very funny, Thierry's bumbling filmmaker producing some Spinal Tap moments and slapstick too, plenty of falling off ladders and buckets on heads, Laurel & Hardy style. It does feel scripted and, rather suspiciously, the characters don't seem to age on screen over the 15 year timeline and you certainly can't see someone as gauche as Thierry running a ladies fashion store, unless he went into women's clothing either to wear it in his downtime or just to peep into the fitting rooms.
Like Catfish, its just one of those entertaining documentaries you should see to make up your own mind, and well worth the journey. It just gets more intriguing and layered as the climax nears and you can't help but grin at the creators for having the cheek to take you that far down the road. The fact the film director credit is Banksy does indeed suggest a 'prankumentry'. I think it's currently knocking around on Freeview if you want to save on rental fees and so no excuses not to see it now, by far one of the best documentaries this year for me.
Banksy: "Warhol repeated iconic images until they became meaningless, but there was still something iconic about them. Thierry really makes them meaningless"
Imdb.com - 8.1 /10.0(16, 458 votes)
Metacritic.com - 85% critic's approval.
Rottentomatos.com - 96% critic's approval.
CNN - "The widespread speculation that Exit through the Gift Shop is a hoax only adds to its fascination".
Film 4 - Energetic, exciting, entertaining, and at times illegal, Exit through the Gift Shop is a wicked treat.
Radio Times - "The plain fact is that, on some level, it doesn't matter whether the film is true or not. Either way, it's fascinating. Either way, we learn a lot. Either way, it's a great film"
The Denver Bugle - "A provocative and absorbing exploration of what constitutes art, the creative process and the power of hype to triumph over talent".
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My Kid Could Paint That (DVD)
Genre- Documentary Rated- RuN-TiMe- Imdb.com - 7.3 out of 10.0 (1,116 votes) --------------- The so-called artists Damien Hurst tells a story that at a swanky party he was talking to some celebrity friends when a rich banker said hello and proudly announced he had purchased some of the artists work, ... quoting the price very loudly. Hurst then quipped to his friend later on that his 3-year-old daughter had painted it, that story the essence of this intriguing documentary from America about another 3-year-old girl blessed with an artistic father, the loaded title all you need to know where this film is going. It seems anyone can pass off modern art as kids stuff.
We join the lives of the Olmsted's, an attractive blue-eyed middle-class American couple from Binghamton, a small affluent town in upstate New York, the couple and their two children about to become the centre of attention back in 2003 when their 3-year-old daughter Marla became a modern art sensation, the subject of this enthralling documentary. The experts proclaimed her the next Kandinsky, or even Jackson Pollock, lording her ability at such a young age to use colour so well and paint in sophisticated layers, a very adult technique, the adorable Marla a media sensation for her apparent stunning ability, until, that is, doubts were raised over the validity of the art, her father becoming number one suspect for the real creator of the paintings, which were now selling for big bucks, the first 24 bringing in $40 thousand dollars alone. Dad had also painted 'a little' in his day and had even sold paintings for money before his father died of cancer, but Mark remaining undiscovered and unappreciated.
The real story begins when dad, a night manager in a food factory (complete with hair net), thinks his little Marla's art work is good enough to display in a friends coffee shop, he an artist so he would know, the abstract explosions of colour getting regular positive comments from customers thereafter. When they sell the piece for $253 dollars a local gallery owner agrees to exhibit her remaining work, which start to sell well, her ambitious father more than keen for this to continue, especially when local news reporter Nora Cohen brings the story to national attention, increasing the media interest ten fold, the paintings value rising on a similar ratio, the hype dads work never had because he had no interesting angle. As the appearances on Oprah and Leno pile up for Marla and family and the flashbulbs increase, the couple begin to enjoy the attention a little too much for comfort and so more pressure on Marla to produce artwork, all this with a TV documentary crew watching their every move, hence this intriguing film.
During the documentary it becomes noticeable we don't actually see Marla do what she is famous for - painting these amazing pictures. What we do see is a normal three-year-old messing about with paints and making a gooey mess, that familiar grey colour when you mix all the paints up as a kid familiar to all. The documentary then throws up a spinnaker and tacks around the bouy with an ill wind for the Olmsted's when Ellen Winner, a renowned child psychologist in America, announces on '60 minutes' (their Panorama), after examining film of Marla's work, that there's little chance of Marla being the painter of the pictures, the Olmstead's faces collapsing as we see them watching the show live at their home. After that moment of doubt the story changes as the veracious media turns on them, the film becoming even more captivating as all those modern art experts, pseudo intellectuals and members of the public that had proclaimed Marla's work as genius beginning to attack the family for perpetrating a possible fraud - and making them look extremely silly, the highlight of the film for me, the question now being were the paintings indeed done by a brilliant 3-year-old with the ability of a 37 year-old artist or by a 37-year-old painting for a 3-year-old? Binghamton was known for its cigars and munitions, more of one than the other coming the way of Mark and his wife's soon after 60 Minutes aired...
I'm in the camp that thinks modern art is bunkum and the central point of the film that any kid could paint that stuff is proven here for me. Classical art of old was made to tell stories whereas modern art is devoid and pretentious, made by people with too much time on their hands, typewriters and monkeys coming to mind. When anybody can cut a cow in half and dump it in a tank or preservative and make a half-a-million then you know you're being conned.
This is fascinating stuff and a must see for cynics and intelligent documentary fans alike. In some ways it reminds me of the McCann's story, both they and the Olmsted's having a media storm forced upon them for their child's burden and so fete, be it a terrible one or apparent genius, but soon addicted to the limelight as they look good on TV and wanting more, perhaps that the only thing keeping the marriage going. There are clues early on that the blonde wife, a dental receptionist, is perhaps just going along with this to please her gregarious and handsome husband, why she was attracted to him in the first place, no doubt, and their dull lives in need of the attention. Some parents want to live their dreams vicariously through their children and that seems the case here.
Although its never totally proved that dad Mark helps little Marla with her paintings to make them and her marketable there are plenty of hints, like when a news crew insist he proves his daughter is a child prodigy by placing a hidden camera to watch her paint in a desperate need to keep the paintings value. But perhaps the final scene at the gallery where he tries to get some rich old couple to buy the completed painting that is caught on camera being constructed is the films most telling pay-off, the artwork clearly very amateur and poor compared to Marla's other 'alleged' paintings, but Mark apparently completely vindicated when the couple buy it for 15k.
The direction and film-making is very accomplished and beautifully edited, giving you the distinct feeling everyone involved in this is in on the act in some way, from the gallery owner making a healthy commission to the maker of this film who must have taken the job on as he too knew the story wasn't the kid's alleged talent but the parents. The film is also an example of the medias need to fill time with these news stories so they can sell adverting space, they as equal sceptics from the off but giving Marla's story legs as they know the cynical satisfaction to the story was the families downfall, a Shakespearian story or human greed and vanity, what the viewer demands.
The body language in the film is the most fascinating aspect as the proud parents of those favourable genius genes become the story. Mark is clearly in love with the camera and attention, the type of dad who would let his kid fly half way across Texas in a weather balloon if he had though of it first, changing his look several times in the film from Stephen Baldwin to Mark Rufallo, the movie star he probably wanted to be, showing his trophy daughter to the world like pushy parents do to further their ego. If you like and need that cynical edge to a documentary that vindicates your suspicions then this is perfect for you, as it was for me. You must see this film guys.
Check out the beautiful paintings here and you decide.
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