Exit Through the Gift Shop Review
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Art, it’s often said, is in the eye of the beholder. It’s a matter of taste. Some love the soft, impressionistic style of Monet; others prefer Warhol’s bold pop art. But art doesn’t have to be found in museums or galleries. It could be found on billboards and train cars and buildings—like the street art found in the quirky documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.

Thierry Guetta was once just a successful Los Angeles boutique owner with a strange obsession with filming each and every moment of his life. But on a trip home to Paris in 1999, he discovered a new passion: street art. His cousin, an artist known as Invader, had just started posting his signature artwork—tiled images of creatures from the classic video game Space Invaders—around the city, and Thierry eagerly joined him on his nightly adventures.

Once back in LA, Thierry began seeking out local street artists, tagging along and documenting their work. After years of following street artists around the world, Thierry finally met the elusive British artist Banksy. And when his new friend suggested that he stop recording the art and start creating it instead, Thierry took his advice, transforming himself into MBW—A.K.A. Mister Brainwash—a highly commercialized (and much-hyped) pop artist.

Directed by Banksy, Exit Through the Gift Shop combines Guetta’s simple, handheld footage with narration by Rhys Ifans and interviews with a number of street artists—including Banksy himself, who remains hidden behind a hooded sweatshirt, his voice digitally altered. The film documents Mister Brainwash’s strange transformation from boutique owner to pop artist—but, more importantly, it also captures the rise of the street art movement. As Banksy points out, street art is temporary; it could be altered or even erased completely within a matter of hours. But Guetta was there to document it—to show the artists, their process, their work, and even people’s reactions—and his footage offers a fascinating look at this cultural phenomenon.

Some say that Exit is just another grand hoax by Banksy—a farcical look at the art world’s mindless commercialism. Perhaps Thierry really is Mister Brainwash—or maybe MBW is Banksy’s own creation. Whatever the case, though, it’s just plain fun to watch. Like Philippe Petit in Man on Wire, Thierry Guetta is one entertaining character. He’s passionate and eccentric—and more than just a little bit crazy. He also provides an amusing foundation for the street art story. Without him, the film would be just a bunch of footage of artists pasting giant posters and spray-painting stencils on buildings. It’s interesting stuff—but it might not have made for such an engaging documentary.

Thanks to its random assortment of artists and artwork, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a fascinating story—an entertaining look at street art, its subversive culture, and its most eccentric players. It doesn’t matter whether your artistic tastes lean more toward Water Lilies or Dogs Playing Poker; you’ll enjoy this quirky work of documentary art.

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