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June 24, 2010 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Exit Through the Gift Shop

In 1973, Orson Welles released the documentary F for Fake, an endlessly inventive and entertaining look at art, authorship and fakery through two of the world’s greatest con-artists—art forger Elmyr de Hory and ‘official biographer of Howard Hughes’ Clifford Irving. Twenty-seven years later, enigmatic British street artist Banksy evokes the spirit of Welles’ groundbreaking film for his debut documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop. The energy of the editing, the utter fascination with the documentary’s subject (in this case, boisterous, mutton-chopped videographer Thierry Guetta), the wry humour, the unexpected final act—Banksy seems to be channelling Welles from his grave with this film, and there’s no doubt that there’s no-one better he could be channelling in this instance.

However, where F for Fake doesn’t waste time in beginning to discuss its themes of the nature of art and the importance (or lack thereof) of where it comes from, Exit Through the Gift Shop goes about addressing those issues in a very roundabout way. The first fifty minutes or so are spent establishing the backstory of Guetta, a man with an infectious enthusiasm for the wonders of video recording and an unerring compulsion to indulge in those wonders every damn minute. Cousin of street artist Space Invader, it is through videotaping his work that Guetta comes into contact with the world of street art and all its colourful inhabitants. The man’s obsession with videotaping these avant garde artists, under the guise of ‘making a documentary’, slowly reveals to the audience an entire history of the movement captured on grainy olive-tinted film, and it’s a fascinating, though slow-paced, documentation of that growth.

When Banksy enters the frame and requests Thierry make the ‘documentary’ he’s been talking about doing, the film kicks up a notch—the reveal of Thierry’s ‘documentary’, a nigh-unwatchable exercise in MTV editing and incoherent composition, is an unexpected comic highlight in the film. But it is when Banksy takes over the documentary and tells Thierry to go do a small street art installation instead that the film’s long build-up pays off. Thierry transforms into ‘Mr Brainwash’ and the show transforms into a massive installation in the abandoned CBS headquarters, and against it all Banksy paints a picture of hype and commercialism gone wild, MBW’s highly-derivative works praised by a public all too easily suckered in by MBW’s ‘voice of street art’ persona. Regardless of whether this is a prank on the audience or not (which is likely, given how evocative MBW’s work is of Banksy’s and fellow street artist Shepard Fairey’s, and how little work we actually see Guetta doing in the film), Exit Through the Gift Shop’s potency in addressing issues about authenticity, celebrity and art makes up in part for its padded first half and jarring narration, and offering the opinion that if MBW is the future of street art, then it’s best to get the fuck out before that begins.

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