EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
Directed by Banksy
Runtime 87 mins.
The world’s most famous street artist, whose identity remains unknown, directed a film as daring, mocking, and inviting of interpretation as his politically-charged stencils. Wearing a hood, hiding his face, and altering his voice, Banksy explains that when a documentary about him was supposed to be filmed, he turned out to not be very interesting, and so made the film about the filmmaker, instead.
That would be one Thierry Guetta. Born in France and living in Los Angeles, we learn of Guetta early on that he could buy a bale of old clothes for $50, sell everything calling it vintage, and make $5,000. We also see that Thierry (pronounced “Terry”) carries a camera everywhere he goes, and is always filming.
When he visits France, he films his cousin, a street artist who calls himself Invader. Because everyone involved is breaking the law by providing unasked-for art on the sides of buildings, the artists strike quickly by night. Thierry finds he loves this.
After his return to Los Angeles, his cousin Invader comes to visit, and introduces Thierry to other street artists, notably Shephard Fairey, whose altered image of Andre the Giant’s face coupled with the word “Obey” was famously plastered all over the city. Thierry helps Shephard, and through their rapport, Shephard eventually invites Thierry to meet Banksy.
For Thierry to get to be Banksy’s Los Angeles assistant is like a book-lover getting to hang out with JD Salinger. When he accompanies Banksy into Disneyland, he films Banksy’s artful prank of propping an inflatable dummy in an orange jumpsuit with a black hood covering the head against a fence in view of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride. While Banksy slips away and changes clothes, Thierry gets nabbed, but successfully endures four hours of questioning during his detention in Disneyland.
We are left to wonder how we see any footage of this incident after Thierry says he deleted everything on his camera during questioning. However, questions of validity aside, Thierry’s resolve furthers his friendship with Banksy.
Eventually, we find that Thierry’s problem as a filmmaker is having no idea how to do it. He never even looks at his tapes. (This sort of makes sense when we learn the sad story that motivated Thierry to pick up a camera in the first place.) Realizing he needs to take over, Banksy suggests that Thierry go make some art of his own.
Presented with this holy mission, Thierry calls himself Mr. Brainwash, cranks out a couple hundred Warhol-esque Photoshopped images, has a gallery showing with a quote from Banksy supporting him displayed on a huge banner, and makes a million bucks.
Funny, informative, and always fascinating, Exit Through the Gift Shop will make you look at art—whether it’s sprayed on the outside of a building, or hanging framed on the inside—with new eyes.
Stewart Kirby writes for