Foreign & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video ">
Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT
The life of a piece of street art is a fleeting, temporary one. Making art on the public property of cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Paris is like working in a hurricane. Prosecution by civic authority, competition for space, and the very degradation of the spaces shorten the lifespan of these spray paint and stencil works. Likewise, these artists must work under cover of darkness and hide their identities to avoid police. The art making process, then, is as important as the final piece. At the very least, it’s as interesting to watch, evidenced by the endless footage collected by cinematographer-turned-street artist-turned-pop culture icon Thierry Guetta, and finally compiled by the reigning champion of the street art movement, Banksy.
Maintaining his characteristic anonymity, he hosts what is ostensibly the story of Thierry’s beginnings as the unofficial videographer of the LA street art scene, who eventually became a kind of sidekick to fellow artists Banksy and the equally iconic Shepard Fairey (of Obama “Hope” poster fame). Both through Thierry’s original footage and more recent interviews, we’re taken through this ambitious French immigrant’s attempt to edit mountains of videotapes, his almost grateful relinquishment of the precious material, and, finally, to his own foray into visual art making. The surprise ending hasn’t stopped heads shaking in disbelief during the film’s initial festival run.
Fans of street art need not be told twice about this one. The gang is all here, including Swoon, Space Invader, Buffmonster, Neckface, and scores of others. Thierry’s muddy, low-lit Handycam footage is nothing less than captivating, and Banksy’s insight into the essence of what street art is all about makes this film not just a great story about Thierry’s induction into the ranks, but a heartfelt paean to the beleaguered art form itself. All those involved believe so strongly in the value of their work, consistently avoiding the term “graffiti.” These folk exhibit that rare pride equally reserved for serious artists and proponents of civil disobedience.
What happens in the film’s second half, though, is awesome. What makes something a new and exciting idea naturally gives ground for imitation and, eventually, commodification, modestly defining that fine line between art and commerce. Thierry’s story is a microcosm of this. “I used to tell everyone to go out and make art,” says Banksy, who wears a concealing hood and digitally alters his voice for the interviews. “I don’t do that so much anymore.” The notoriously acerbic street painter is clever indeed, and not only are his frequent one-liners hilarious, it’s obvious he has much to say on the phenomenon of art itself.
their unconventional starts dodging the police and perpetually watching
mute as their work is removed by civic initiatives in LA, London, and
beyond, Banksy and Fairey now stay in business with commission-based art
that is among the most sought-after in the world. What has happened to
them is similar with many street artists. What turned an underground
movement into a multi-million dollar industry is the stuff of true
irony, and Exit Through the Gift Shop is knowingly filled with
it. The film begins as a celebration of the “give it all for art”
culture and ends as a lamentation of what happens when that commitment
pays off. We may live in a culture prone to imitation, but it’s also one
that values access to new and exciting ideas at any cost. What this
means for an artist’s integrity can be a very tricky thing.