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Massawyrm takes the EXIT THROUGH THE GIFTSHOP and beckons you to follow him

Hola all. Massawyrm here. How the hell does one review a film like EXIT THROUGH THE GIFTSHOP? At first glance it looks easy. After all, it is an undeniably entertaining, delightfully enthralling documentary both shining a light on the phenomenon of street art, while exposing, satirizing and ultimately gutting one of its rising stars. But when you walk away from this, drunk off its energy and power, you can’t help but begin to scratch that nagging itch in the back of your head wondering if everything you just saw was entirely on the level – then you begin to wonder if any of it was. If EXIT THROUGH THE GIFTSHOP is to be believed, it is a brilliant I can’t believe they actually caught that all on video account of a madman slowly transitioning into becoming an artist, inspired by the artists that were his one-time documentary subjects. But if it’s a hoax, it may well prove to be one of the greatest and decidedly elaborate hoaxes of all time. Thierry Guetta is something of a bizarre genius. The owner and operator of an LA based, hipster geared thrift store, this French ex-patriot has mastered the art of spinning bullshit into gold. He is a man who buys bulk clothing from thrift stores and closeouts, displays them with the right pairings and accessories and gets people with too much money to spend $400 on a faded t-shirt that he’s convinced them is a one of a kind from a radical designer. For all intents and purposes he is the epitome of the consumer-minded artist; he just doesn’t know it yet. After all, the biggest and hardest part of art isn’t necessarily creating it; it is convincing the rest of the world that it is worth something. But while Thierry’s story is one that takes him to the top of the world, it begins quite humbly as a man obsessed with video cameras who films EVERYTHING. When he discovers that his cousin, a street artist named Spaced Invader, is running around France, putting up tile mosaics of video game characters, he thinks he’s found an interesting subject for his camera. What he doesn’t know is that this discovery will propel him on a ten year journey of rubbing elbows with the brightest and the best street artists working today, and that he, by a series of lucky circumstances, will end up becoming their chief documentarian. And when his ineptness brings about what may be the worst documentary in human history, world renowned street artist and prankster-at-large, Banksy, takes possession of Guetta’s thousands of hours of tape and is tasked with assembling a documentary based upon himself and his friends. Which presents us with the film’s first conceptual dilemma: If the documentary is thus far on the level, and has not lied to us one bit, then Banksy found himself in the rather odd spot of having to become his own mythmaker. The great thing about an outside documentarian is that, if he is in love with his subject and their work, he can act as the official bearer of the legend and we as an audience can buy into and even share his fascination with his subject. But when the subject himself ends up with the footage and has to assemble a film about his own work and that of his contemporaries - selling not only the truth, but the official story of who and what they are - how does he go about doing so objectively, without being entirely self-serving? The truth is you can’t. One way or the other, real of hoax, Banksy is giving us the hard, hip sell of he and his buddies’ worth. But if it is real, then Banksy found the perfect patsy to tell his story while delivering his beliefs and theories on art by turning the film’s focus on the rise of Thierry Guetta. As a distraction for Guetta, who has just handed over his footage to Banksy, Banksy suggests he throw a little art show in LA – that he officially become one of the street artists he has spent so much time documenting. But Guetta has never been a man of half-measures. Instead he sets out to create a gargantuan art show, the likes of which the world has never seen, in order to impress, and possibly even outdo, his mentor. And what happens from that point on involves a jaw dropping third act that allows Banksy to satirize the art world, deliver a fascinating documentary subject, and, while filling in all the blanks for the audience about the world surrounding Guetta, help foster a few myths about his friends while he’s at it. Make no mistake, real or no, this documentary is a view of the street art world as told from the point of view of its most notorious and successful artist. To pretend for even a moment that it is a fair, unbiased look at the phenomenon is to completely delude one’s self. Banksy made this movie, and Banksy will ultimately profit from this movie, whether through sale off his work or the dissemination of his beliefs on art and its attachment to his growing reputation. Either way, as much as Banksy might be selling us the legend of he and his buddies, he is also shining a harsh, unflattering light on the art world and how readily manipulated it is by hype. At several points in the film, Banksy calls into question the amount of money he and his friends are making, often forcing the audience to wonder if the art is actually being lost in the commerce of it. And at no time is that point more callously and brutally made than when we are watching Guetta’s brilliant fumbling in the last act of the film. But what if it is a fake, a hoax perpetrated over the course of several years? What if, as the wildest of the theories suggest, Banksy himself is actually Guetta and is perpetrating a hoax not just on the moviegoers in the arthouses of the world – but on the art world itself, setting up the ultimate humiliation as thousands of collectors shell out untold millions of dollars for popart they’ve been convinced has real value, all for the sake of one day being revealed as worthless bullshit? The name itself of the film suggests the film’s message (there are no scenes in this film from which this title could otherwise be drawn) and Banksy wanted this title so badly that he offered the band that shared its name a Banksy original as a backdrop for their shows if they would change their name and free up the rights for him. The backdrop is estimated to be worth $200,000. One way or the other, he’s making a point, and that point has everything to do with the commercialization of the street art world. Hoax or not, the film is incredible. It is funny, telling and - mythmaking or not - exposes us to a world with some pretty remarkable art in it. Personally I don’t care if this is Banksy inflating his own worth – the guy’s good. I admire his art, and now his ability to tell his own story. If it proves to be false, it will take its rightful place as one of the best hoaxes ever perpetrated as the metaphors presented ring true in a number of different ways that will make this a must watch for anyone who believes in the concept of art. But if it’s real? If it’s on the level? Then it is one of the most fascinating stories of the rise to prominence of an artist and the chimerical nature of perceived value I’ve ever seen. And it should be viewed by anyone and everyone who has any interest in art, filmmaking or marketing at all.
Until next time friends, Massawyrm
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Readers Talkback
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  • May 10, 2010, 9:46 a.m. CST

    Love Banksy.

    by gotilk

    Cannot wait to see this

  • May 10, 2010, 10:03 a.m. CST

    It Can Only Be a Hoax In The Sense . . .

    by kevinwillis.net

    That all marketing is a hoax. Which it is. Why obsess on it?<br><br>That being said, this makes the film interesting enough that I might add it to my Netflix instant-watch queue and then never watch it.

  • May 10, 2010, 10:09 a.m. CST

    Isn't Banksy to blame for the financial crisis

    by masteryoda007

    Too many Banksy's were operating outside of their means and this caused a global financial crisis.

  • May 10, 2010, 10:12 a.m. CST

    Banksy...

    by shoveller

    I've been a fan for a long time now, ever since i saw his heavy weaponry stuff on Walls in Bristol when I was a kid. I met him a couple of years ago at an exhibition of mine where I was also flogging knock off banksy prints. He asked me what banksy would think about the copyright infringement and when I replied, "fuck him, he's made enough cash, I'm sure he wouldn't mind spreading the wealth." he laughed and bought a painting... I'm sure I'll be cussed out by people here for believing some random bloke was banksy, but the hand grenade stencil canvas I got otff him a few days later was the real thing... Real enough to make me enough cash to get my own studio!

  • May 10, 2010, 10:29 a.m. CST

    no ghostbuster 3 news? im out.......

    by theDannerDaliel

  • May 10, 2010, 11:38 a.m. CST

    interesting...

    by CurlySue

  • May 10, 2010, 12:12 p.m. CST

    Banksy' s "growing reputation"

    by EddieMurphysLaugh

    So you just caught on to his work recently Massaw?...lol

  • May 10, 2010, 1:20 p.m. CST

    Sounds like F for Fake

    by Hot_Nikks

    Minus an old Orson Welles hanging out with hot chicks.

  • May 10, 2010, 4:09 p.m. CST

    growing reputation

    by mthrndr

    I think he meant Thierry Guetta's, not Banksy. Banksy is the most well-known street artist in the world.

  • May 10, 2010, 6:02 p.m. CST

    It's really, really good. Go see it. At a cinema.

    by J.B.M.A.

  • May 10, 2010, 11:48 p.m. CST

    I'm not even interested enough to read paragraph 1

    by JuanSanchez

  • May 11, 2010, 9:01 a.m. CST

    This whole thing sounds a bit....

    by WarrenSmooth

    PRETENTIOUS! Bullshit is bullshit no matter how many hipsters ejaculate to it. I'll pass.

  • May 11, 2010, 2:09 p.m. CST

    This film is the antithesis of pretentious

    by Chesterfield Slacks

    as it takes the piss out of artistic pretension, hipsters and anyone else taken in by bullshit. If you pass on this, you risk being labeled "too hipster" yourself.

  • May 11, 2010, 7:12 p.m. CST

    totally a hoax but a great film

    by oogles