21 February 2011


Sometimes, there's a Friday in which you look at the new releases and say "I don't need that pain in my life." While I hear generally positive reviews about that Justin Bieber thing, Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son stands at a proud 8% Fresh ranking on Rotten Tomatoes. I'm not seeing either of those movies, so let's do some awards season stuff.

Exit Through The Gift Shop is a film by guerilla artist Banksy, and it's been nominated for Best Documentary. Having seen it, I think that might be tantamount to nominating Cloverfield in that category, but whether it's all for real or not, it tells a true story. The story is Thierry Guetta's- he's a bloke who records his everyday life as a hobby and decides to make some footage based on the emergent street art movement. He gets exclusive contact with Banksy, the biggest name in street art, and Thierry's life begins to change.

We don't often review documentaries in these parts. It seems that whenever I do review a documentary, there's always some doubt about whether or not it's actually part of the recent resurgence in mockumentary films. I'm Still Here was an out-and-out hoax, and Catfish was a film with no less mediation than any other verite documentary, but one which I wanted to be a fictional construct so I wouldn't hate the filmmakers so much. And then there's Exit Through The Gift Shop.

If we can take the hooded Banksy at face value, which we can't because he's Nazgul-faced throughout this film, then it's enough to simply applaud this film as an extraordinary accomplishment of editing. Face or no face, the claim is that Banksy created this film from over 10,000 hours of documentary footage shot by Thierry. The handover of the footage from Thierry to Banksy is a plot point in the film, but the film itself is about Thierry. We're through the looking glass here.

Turns like these are probably the main reason I and others have for doubting its veracity. As mentioned before on this blog, and of course, long before this blog or even I came into existence, documentaries are not reality. They're a depiction of reality, and what's troublesome in this case is that documentaries very rarely come together as art. What's so engaging about this film is that even with 10,000 hours of actuality at its disposal, it doesn't play it straight-faced.

Therein lies the only real subversion. The blurb on my DVD of the film claims that it's "shocking" and "provocative", which builds expectations to a point of inevitable letdown. In truth, the film never shocked me, nor did it provoke me, but then maybe that was what the street artists' excursion to Disneyland was meant to be. I did find it amusing all the same, but I don't see what's so avant-garde or subversive about the thing as a whole.

On a topical note, I finally decided to watch the film after hearing last week's news about Banksy's visit to Los Angeles before Sunday's Oscars ceremony. Apparently, the Academy have declined Banksy's request to appear in disguise at the ceremony, probably in case he does anything subversive during the very high-profile television coverage. Personally, I hope the Academy reconsiders, if not to celebrate the good work he did with this film, then to keep me up as I pull an all-nighter watching their bloody awards this weekend. What else am I supposed to do to stay awake? Hope for something like last year's majestically stupid Hurt Locker-based interpretive dance?

Exit Through The Gift Shop seems to shed its documentary trappings as it goes on, and that's why I wonder how much of it is put on. That said, I concede that I found it very interesting indeed without knowing anything at all about the street art scene. Banksy's reasons for making this film, as stated within its own framework, is to capture the creativity and vitality of the street art movement, which he believes has a short lifespan. In that much at least, the film is a triumph, and it's all the better for me not being able to get my head around it.

Exit Through The Gift Shop is now available on DVD and blu-ray.
If you've seen Exit Through The Gift Shop, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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