Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Exit Through The Gift Shop

I finally had a chance to watch “Exit Through the Gift Shop” tonight. A random 35mm print of this film was shipped to us a few months back. I had 24 hours with it, and I so badly wanted to put it together and watch it. But, alas, that is against the rules (and I was too lazy). So tonight I watched the DVD. I’ve had a couple of hours to digest it while rocking Ellie to sleep and working on other things, so my “take” on the film might be a little premature. I’ll probably have a changed perspective tomorrow.

First off, have you ever seen “Quality of Life” by Benjamin Morgan of La Grande? It is excellent. Ben was able to come to the Eltrym to show the 35mm print of his film a couple years ago for Thursday Art Night. Before seeing his film, I had never given an ounce of thought to street art.  I mean, it’s neat looking, but I wasn’t looking for it. So after watching his film and listening to the Q & A with the audience that followed, I was fascinated by it.  Soon after Ben came to the Eltrym, Dan & I went to The Netherlands. We rode the train a lot while we were there as we traveled from Amsterdam to all the little towns close by. The graffiti along the train routes and on the trains and at the train stations was incredible. I found myself forgetting to check out the scenery that was passing by and looking for graffiti. I was amazed at what people were able to accomplish, and the risks to life and limb that they took to do it.

So anyway, back to “Exit Through the Gift Shop.” There’s this infamous and elusive street artist named Banksy. Then there’s this guy obsessed with both filming stuff, street artists in particular. The camera guy, Thierry Guetta, wants to find Banksy and film him. After finding and filming Banksy and promising to make a documentary with all the footage he has acquired and then making the film which turns out to be not-so-good, the camera guy starts making street art of his own and ends up mass producing his work and puts together this spectacular, bigger-than-life show of his own and selling a million dollars worth of his work. After helping him out quite a bit, Banksy notes that this guy is an idiot, as do many of the people that work for him; but, in the end, he sells lots and lots of his own street-style art to art collectors for lots and lots of money.  So the premise is that the film was going to be a documentary of Banksy by Thierry, but it ends up that Banksy puts together a documentary about Thierry.

The conversation that seems to take place in response to this film is whether or not this film is a real documentary or a hoax. Who is Banksy? Is the hooded figure with the disguised voice actually Banksy? Is Thierry Guetta/Mr. Brainwash real or a creation of Banksy? Is this film a documentary about Thierry Guetta or a statement about the commercialization of modern art?

As it is supposed to do, it reminds me of almost every trip I’ve taken to an art museum. You go through the museum learning about the artists and their devotion of their lives to their work and viewing their original works up close.  The value of their work is incomprehensible. Then on the way out you are routed through a gift shop where you can buy Van Gogh playing cards for $3.99. It becomes a very commercial experience.

I think that what most made me raise an eyebrow while watching the film was the narration and interview style. I felt like I was listening to a gameshow host narrate an E! True Hollywood Story. The documentary style of the film felt very, very contrived and very formulaic. If it weren’t for that, perhaps I would have taken the story at face value.  But as it is, I didn't. I just wasn't able to take this too seriously. This film, for me, also reinforced my amazement and shock that anyone, literally, can be a musical “artist” these days. Like that Barbie looking chain-smoker on the Real Housewives of New Jersey. 

A couple of things to note:

We have a resident street artist or two in Baker. You can see their work if you look around. Thankfully, they have been respectful with their work, so don’t freak out about it.

“Exit Through The Gift Shop” is available for rental at the Baker Co. Public Library. 

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