Monday, February 14, 2011

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

     Banksy is a notorious street artist from the United Kingdom. It isn't widely known who he is or even what he looks like but his work pops up on walls and buildings worldwide. Exit Through the Gift Shop is his first foray into the film world. The film is ostensibly a documentary about him and some of his fellow street artists originally conceived by a man named Thierry Guetta. What it actually is, in my opinion, is yet another work of subversive art by an elusive genius.
     The film starts off with Guetta behind the camera literally filming his entire life. His friends and family know that whenever he is around there will always be a rolling camera. One day he happens upon his cousin, known as Space Invader, constructing mosaics of 8-bit video game characters. Invader plans on putting this work out on the streets of France. This intrigues Guetta and he starts to focus his ever-present lens on street art and the artists who create it. Before long he becomes submerged in the movement and finds himself filming, and assisting, all of the top artists. The only one who continues to allude him is Banksy, whom Guetta reveres as the "King of Street Art". Once they meet the film really starts to take on a whole new shape and things get very...interesting. This is where the film stops feeling like a guerilla documentary and you start to get the sneaking suspicion that you, the viewer, are being manipulated by Banksy himself.
     I really don't want to give away what happens next. Half the fun of the film (and it is a very fun watch) is to see how events are going to unfold and where it will take Guetta. Just suffice it to say there is a reason why Banksy is credited as director. It ceases to be a film that Guetta is making about Banksy and instead becomes a recording of Banksy's newest work in progress. The line between the real and the fictional gets completely blurred: but isn't that what street art is all about? As a whole, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a rare look into the street art movement while at the same time becoming a part of the movement itself. (This film is available on DVD and is also currently available on Netflix Instant Watch)

The Good, The Bad, and the Toads

     The Maysles Brother's Gimme Shelter is a classic of documentary filmmaking. It chronicles The Rolling Stones' 1969 U.S. tour. The movie is famous for capturing the final concert of the tour at the Altamount Speedway. Like Exit Through the Gift Shop, events don't play out as planned. The Hell's Angels were appointed as security for the show. This culminated in a man being stabbed and beaten to death. Unlike Exit Through the Gift Shop, it is unquestionably authentic.  
     Only three reviews in and I've already failed. I just cannot think of a bad documentary I've seen. I didn't like Super-Size Me and I can't imagine Justin Bieber: Never Say Never 3D (the weekend's hot new release) is exactly a spellbinder, but I can't say they're bad films. Super-Size Me was told in an intelligent and cohesive manner, I just don't care for the subject matter. As for Justin Bieber, I haven't seen it. I'm sure it's nauseating, but picking it apart is like calling the fat kid a "lard-ass". He knows he's fat and everyone can see he's fat. There is no need to call him on it.
     Cane Toads: An Unnatural History is quite possibly one of the quirkiest documentaries ever made. It is an account of the history of cane toads in Australia and the problems they now cause. It also happens to be laugh-out-loud funny. I'm not sure if the filmmakers were trying to poke fun at the problem or just trying to make the subject more enticing to film-goers, but either way the film is intentionally hilarious. The whole thing is only around 45 minutes and is probably readily available on sites like YouTube, so check it out.



  1. Danielle just bought this on a recommendation. We're going to check it out sometime this week.

  2. Definitely gonna check this out. I just saw some of the stuff he did on the barrier in isreal in his book, pretty awesome.

  3. For a "bad" documentary you could try The Cove. I felt it completely insulted a way of life without ever talking to those who live it. Really one sided.

    That and the trailer suckered me in with promise of action. I've since learned much from that example and Clash of the Titans.

  4. Shaun - Hey Man. They show him actually doing some of his work on the barrier in the movie. That takes some fortitude. Almost used one as the pic for the review.

    Nick - I still haven't seen The Cove yet. I've been meaning to check that out for a long time. I'm sick of trailers promising untold riches and then the movies smacks you in the face. I will forever refer to this as being "Legion-ed"(I know you're with me on that). Really, how do you mess up a movie about angels with assault rifles??

  5. Super-size me made me hungry.

  6. A couple of other docs--although I don't know if they'd go in the "Good" or in the "Wild Card" category, because they are both VERY fucked: The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (not sure if I got that title exactly right), which, if you haven't seen it, you should, about, basically, a family whose genetic line needs to be put to an end ASAP; or, of course, Crumb.

  7. I've heard of The Wild and Wonderful Whites but I haven't had the opportunity to see it yet. I'll have to correct that.
    As for Crumb...yeah.
    That probably should have been my pick for the "Wild Card". It totally slipped my mind at the time. I've only seen it once, and it was years ago, but I still remember it pretty vividly. It was the film that made me realize that documentaries don't have to be stale and boring. It was a gateway to discovering directors like Werner Herzog and Errol Morris...and maybe John Waters.

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