International street art man of mystery Banksy makes his debut into film with Exit Through the Gift Shop. As intrigued graffiti and art fans, we made a point to see the documentary in its first week out in Chicago. The movie was both entertaining and thought-provoking, and we’re still reeling from how much we loved it.
The movie chronicles the rise of commercial street art by chronicling wannabe documentary filmmaker Thierry Guetta’s instant fame. Guetta began as a videographer, following Banksy and other street artists, including Shepard Fairey, the artist behind the iconic Obama image, to their usual haunts, filming everything they painted, tagged and posted from L.A. to Europe. But Guetta had no real intention of making a film. After street art began to fetch outrageous prices in the commercial art world, which was around the time of Banky’s 2006 “Barely Legal” show in L.A., Banksy asked Guetta to start making something of his years of footage that would share with everyone the true message and intention behind street art. When Guetta returned with an hour-plus film trailer, Banksy decided to take a shot at filmmaking himself.
Banksy, offhand, encouraged Guetta to busy himself with making art in the meantime. Guetta refinanced his house to pay for expensive screen printing equipment and employ an army of graphic designers and artists, then started calling himself Mr. Brainwash and staged a massive L.A. show. After a cover story in LA Weekly and huge amounts of self promotion, Guetta attracted thousands to his show and made $1 million in sold artwork before the doors even opened. In the art world, it was overnight success. In the street art world, however, Guetta was kind of a joke.
Meshing Guetta’s endless footage with personal interviews, Banksy is funny, observant and clever, and his story about “Mr. Brainwash” brilliantly captures and explains the world of street art, its back story and paradoxes. In the end, Mr. Brainwash — the man originally tasked with telling the “real story” behind street art — became a symbol for its commercialization. (He recently did the cover art for Madonna’s Celebration album.)
A quote in the film from Banksy’s former spokesperson perfectly encapsulates our reaction: “Good for Thierry if he can pull it off. At the same time, the joke’s on … well, I’m not sure who the joke’s on.”
Check out more of Banksy’s art through his official web site, Flickr group, or any number of his books. And if you have no idea who Banksy is, that’s OK — check out this riveting New Yorker profile. Just don’t watch the movie expecting to see Banksy’s face or hear his real voice, because you won’t. This is Banksy, after all.
–Tara and Karina for TKGO