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Exit Through the Gift Shop

by Phumlani Pikoli / 23.12.2010

Exit Through The Gift Shop is high art graffiti artist Banksy’s first foray into feature film making. It’s entertaining but doesn’t really give away any trade secrets into the secretive and subversive cultures of graffiti and street art. It does serve the purpose of film though, in that it is enjoyable and engaging to watch. Between graffiti’s most famous artist Banksy and the man painted as the village idiot who sold out street art, Thierry Guetta; it’s hard not to laugh continuously. The film details how Thierry Guetta came to infiltrate the art movement that had been so secretive for so long. And shows how quickly what sounds like a good idea of documenting an artistic process can quickly turn ugly when placed in the wrong hands.

It’s a Banksy film thus he kind of makes it into a cool guy extravaganza, which is not unexpected, if I made a film I featured myself in, I’d also create myself a persona cooler than Brad Pitt and Clint Eastwood combined. His witty banter, mysterious shadow and distorted voice reiterate the enigma that is the guise of Banksy.
“What is the film about?” an interviewer asks at the beginning.
“Well the film is about the story of what happened when this guy tried to make a documentary about me,” Banksy replies. “But he was actually a lot more interesting than I am, so I know the film kinda is about him. I mean it’s not Gone With The Wind but there’s probably a moral in there somewhere.”


Thierry Guetta starts out as a rip off vintage clothing owner, making money off fashion conscious idiots that would pay anything considered vintage or designer. He bought clothing that was not available on the usual commercial market and resold it at ridiculously inflated prices.
“I take clothes that when the sewing was different I call it designer. So from 50 dollars sometimes I could make 5000 dollars.” Thierry nonchalantly professes to the camera.
And like the clothing he does the same to street art when he eventually decides to become the street Artist MBW(MR Brainwash). Copying the styles of Banksy and Shepard Fairey (known for his Obey stencils, stickers and posters). To do this Thierry infiltrated the community with his video camera after an introduction to street art by his cousin, Invader, a French street artist.

The film doesn’t give any insight into the street art community nor graffiti culture. No real interviews, aside from commentary from Banksy, Shepard Fairey and Thierry or MR Brainwash. Essentially it’s about seeing cool people doing cool shit. Like Banksy painting the West Bank or tying a doll that resembled a Guantanamo Bay prisoner to a gate in Disney land. And seeing other street artists putting up their works. It makes for a level of superficial insight into the world of street art, it’s an allowance to name drop, for people to sound like they know what they’re talking about. But should you be looking for enlightenment about the culture and trying to learn more about the artists, this is not the movie.

Essentially it is the portrayal of how easy it is for art to sell out. Which creates paradox for artistic authenticity, originality and “real art” when compared to those that have become generic for commercial benefit. It begs the question, “when should art shows stop selling out?”
The movie even goes further and puts art into existential crisis, by questioning the meaning of MR Brainwashes commercial success, with Banksy issuing that it could maybe mean that art is a joke.

All in all I was thoroughly entertained and would recommend it to anyone. You don’t have to be in the know to get it. It also, perhaps most interestingly gives big ups to local film maker Rowan Pybus of Makhulu Productions for additional footage he lent from Restless Debt of The Third World in which he collaborated with Cape Town based street artist Faith47. So if anything watch it to share in some international love for our own. Ironically and predictably the movie’s last line I believe will be the cause of it’s success.
“Banksy will never again help anyone make a documentary about street art.” Perfect.

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