Exit through the Gift Shop (2010)
Exit through the Gift Shop is, in so many words, a documentary about the making of a documentary that was never made. When Thierry Guetta, an eccentric Frenchman with a compulsion to videotaping, becomes engrossed with the world of street art, he attempts to track down and document the actives of the world’s most famous street artists, including the infamous Banksy. He accomplishes this goal, but when the documentary he told Banksy he was making turns out an abysmal failure, Banksy gets ahold of his footage and constructs this documentary about Thierry, who himself later becomes a self-proclaimed artist named Mr.
Though the sequences in documentary are selected, not staged, the selection of certain bits of footage over others, and their arrangement together, still expresses meaning unto the film. It seems to me that one of the goals of this film was to criticize the way people see and value art. This is done largely by portraying “Mr.
Brainwash” as an example of an inauthentic, opportunistic “artist,” in opposition to whom Banksy sees as real artists, such as Space Invader, Dorf, Shepard Fairey, himself, and the others featured in this film.
There are a number of times when somewhat silly, upbeat French music is played when Thierry is setting about projects. This choice of music makes Thierry look silly himself, and pokes fun at him and his pursuits, like he’s a cartoon character or an excited kid. One example of this is right after Banksy talks about telling him to go make some of his own street art, and another is when the narrator is explaining Thierry’s choice of venue for his art show. Also, such music is playing throughout much of the planning sequence for the show. This all helps depict Thierry as bumbling, quixotic, and inexperienced.
Furthermore, both the interview segments with Banksy and the narration often seem very sarcastic. Many reviewers have said this movie is hilarious, and this is largely why. The sarcasm is quite dry, and at the expense of Thierry, whether he realizes it or not. My favorite example of this sarcasm was when the narrator said “So now Thierry had to come up with a way of turning 200 identical screen prints into unique, collectible MBW originals,” then Thierry was shown briefly scratching his beard, then simply spraying paint wildly over them as they lay on the floor. Surely it doesn’t need to be explained how this action hardly fits with the gushing words the narrator preceded it with. Even just the tone of the narrator, throughout the film, conveys a sense of dry sarcasm and irony. This kind of presentation reminds me of another piece of media (and my favorite TV show) Top Gear, in which the same dry, British humor is used to highlight and exploit the comical difference between expectation and reality.
Throughout this documentary, the viewers are given a clear, inside picture of Thierry as an inexperienced, inauthentic, essentially talentless artist. However, to the attendees of his L.A. art show, he is the newest, hottest act in art. Despite the fact they’ve never heard of him before, a magazine and simple acknowledgement by Banksy and Fairey makes them instantly ready to accept him as a brilliant, powerful innovator in his field. One attendee interviewed deemed “Mr. Brainwash’s” art a “triumph” that would “go down in history,” as if he was some spectacular voice of a generation. By showing the viewers the real story of Thierry in juxtaposition with the public’s reaction to him, Banksy clearly intends to criticize people for simply accepting anything they’re told as true art.
Near the end of the film, the “legacy” of “Mr. Brainwash” is being discussed over a scene of Thierry painting an abandoned, freestanding wall. For one thing, all the artists refer to him as simply “Thierry,” not his artist pseudonym “Mr. Brainwash,” which highlights the fact they don’t see him as a real artist. Also, Banksy implies it is because of his experiences with Thierry that he no longer suggests everyone create art. Finally, Thierry says
“Some people, you know, might think that I’m a rabbit because I’m running around, and they think that I’m not organized. But I said, “Wait till the end of life, and you’ll see if I’m a rabbit or a turtle.”
I would interpret this as him essentially stating that while some people claim he’s not a real artist, in the end, they’ll see if he’s phony or legitimate. Seeing as how the wall he so proudly paints is then (hilariously) knocked over, the audience is left in no doubt about which of those things Banksy sees him as.