December 24, 2010

#111: Exit Through The Gift Shop (9/10)

You may not know who Banksy or Sheppard Fairey is. You may not give two shits about street art. Even so, I think there is something to be gained by watching the film Exit Through The Gift Shop.  I went in not knowing much about it. I have read about Banksy and seen all his art in pictures.  I knew this was a documentary, and I knew Banksy was involved in some way.  I guess I never assumed it was going to be a documentary about Banksy, though I would have enjoyed that.  From a very early stage it is clear that this is not a standard doc, and it isn't going to be so much about Banksy.

I haven't read reviews or heard much about Exit Through The Gift Shop. I remember somebody in passing speculating about the authenticity of this doc.  In my opinion, there is nothing to debate. It was definitely staged. I interpreted the film under that assumption. I supposed if you felt like the entire thing were genuine you could have a very different reaction that is equally, if not more, valid.  I do believe that most of the events in the film did actually happen. However, I don't buy the over-arching story of our "main character's" journey. With Exit Through The Gift Shop it doesn't really matter.  It is a story created by an artist, and the composition (not authenticity) of that art is the entire point.  I do feel that the entire thing is more compelling if the story is not 100% real. It works extremely well as a satire, one well-crafted by Banksy and as interesting and subversive as one of his pieces of art.

This is an extremely good film. Go ahead and see it.  Don't expect an exciting window into the world of street art. However, it is one of the most entertaining documentaries I've seen.  You can expect a film that employs narrative to make a point. It is up to you to decide exactly what that point is, and whether everything you see happened the way it is presented on screen.

I made the mistake of reading a bit of the IMDB message boards on Exit Through The Gift Shop.  The consensus seems to be that this is undoubtedly real and if you don't agree you have no right to live.  So, you can use that information however you want.

Alright, let us discuss the actual film.  The star of the show is not Banksy like we might have expected.  Rather we get this French dude with big sideburns named Thierry (Terry). Right at the beginning he makes an interesting statement.  I don't know exactly what the quote was, but the meaning is what is important.  An experience will disappear as our memories fade away unless we are able to capture that moment. In Thierry's case he wants to capture everything on video, but a moment can be recorded with any medium in order to preserve it. Once we have netted this fleeting twinkle we are free to revisit it at our leisure. Thierry takes it to the extreme. He records EVERYTHING.  He documents it, but never intends to watch it. It gives him comfort that the moments have been captured.

I find the concept interesting, and agree with Thierry's basic theory. I also feel the need to preserve.  But I suffer from the opposite problem as him. I struggle to find things that seem worth recording at the time.  I don't feel as though I have anything to document, so everything fades into the ether.  With a baby on the way I should be provided with tons of moments worth preserving very shortly. I have purchased a new camera and portable HD camcorder. I have the tools. I am ready to document. But I hope to be more organized then Thierry .

Theirry's obsession for videography finally finds something worth recording; the underground world of illegal street art.  He inexplicably is able to get in tight with all the famous artists of the movement, and is invited to go out with them on projects. He claims to be making a documentary to showcase the great craft of the street artists.  That footage is what most of this film is supposedly comprised of.  I really enjoyed the time spent out on the street watching them create art. I would have been satisfied if the movie had no grander purpose. However, it does.

Theirry is characterized as somewhat of a bafoon. He is driven, but not smart.  He is talented, but not really creative.  He wants to do something great, but doesn't have the focus. Theirry spends tons of time watching  these amazing street artists. Then he decides to become an artist himself.  He mimics the things he has seen.  He takes the ingredients of others and manufactures pieces of his own. With a little nudge from Banksy he becomes a star. He is able to appeal to the masses as a legitimate artist even though (or maybe because) he is a dip-shit who does nothing but ape others.

To me this film was a satire.  Banksy is making a point about the mainstream consumerism and their view of art. The sheep will come and buy whatever they are told.  Street art is not created as a capitalist venture.  Banksy has been called a sell-out many times.  His pieces sell for ridiculous amounts of money.  He came into the public eye and people ate that shit up.

Banksy is using this film to make the point that he was never about the money. He genuinely cares about the art. He uses Theirry as an example.  He makes Theirry seem incompetent, and then shows how he is still able to stumble into success.  When we first see some of Theirry's pieces I was impressed by how good they were. We are coaxed into liking it. However, as Holden Caulfield would say, Theirry is a goddamn phony bastard.

The more I thought about Exit Through The Gift Shop the more it made me think of Catcher In The Rye. It might be a stetch, but I'll finish with some applicable quotes from the classic novel....
People always think something's all true.  ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 2

People never notice anything.  ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 2

I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life.  It's awful.  If I'm on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera.  It's terrible.  ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 3

It's really too bad that so much crumby stuff is a lot of fun sometimes.  ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 9

Goddam money.  It always ends up making you blue as hell.  ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 15

"Take most people, they're crazy about cars.  They worry if they get a little scratch on them, and they're always talking about how many miles they get to a gallon, and if they get a brand-new car already they start thinking about trading it in for one that's even newer.  I don't even like old cars.  I mean they don't even interest me.  I'd rather have a goddam horse.  A horse is at least human, for God's sake."  ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 17, spoken by the character Holden Caulfield

It's funny.  All you have to do is say something nobody understands and they'll do practically anything you want them to.  ~J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, Chapter 21

quotes from Quote Garden

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