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March 5, 2011

Movie Review: Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)

I have heard plenty about Banksy since this documentary came to light. I heard that he was crazy and hilarious, but he's really the sanity that holds this movie together. In fact, he's quite brilliant in his satirical style. At one point he creates a piece that makes a phone booth look like it has been murdered with a pickaxe. He's really interesting, but he really isn't the focus of the movie. In fact, he really didn't give himself a ton of screen time, which I admire.

Buy Exit Through the Gift Shop on DVD or Blu-ray

The real star of the movie is would-be filmmaker Thierry Guetta, a French transplant who resides in Los Angeles. By day he runs an overpriced clothing store, and by night he spent years filming street artists around the world. Thierry first discovered street art in France while visiting his cousin. Invader, as he is known, builds Space Invaders characters with mosaic tiles, then he glues them up all over France. This overnight rebellious act caught Thierry's attention, and he began to follow more and more street artists worldwide.

Thierry spent years doing this under the guise of filming a documentary, but he would just keep tape after tape in storage bins, and he never watched even one of them. Eventually, Thierry caught the bug and created an image of himself on stickers and posters and became his own street artist. With the encouragement of Banksy, Thierry then created his own installation under the name Mr. Brain Wash, or MBW.

Watching the street artists is amazing. One just uses the same image over and over in spray paint. Shepard Fairey, most well known for the blue and red Obama "HOPE" campaign poster, uses a modified image of Andre the Giant and the word OBEY on stickers and posters all over the world. Some, like Banksy, use the artwork to convey an idea, like his Los Angeles installation that used a camouflaged elephant to evoke the "elephant in the room" idea. Any way you look at it, the artists are daring, especially when they have multi-paneled posters that require wallpaper paste.

Banksy does a fine job of combining interviews and Thierry's footage to build a great story. I didn't understand the title Exit Through the Gift Shop until the end of the movie, and I realized that even that was a satirical commentary on the movie and Thierry's view of street art. If you like documentaries, you will love this movie. If you like art, rebellion, punk, movies, thinking or being entertained, you will love this movie. I don't see any reason that anyone wouldn't. It's just too good to not enjoy.

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