Andrew Frost clicks through the extras on the DVD release of Exit Through The Gift Shop…
When Exit Through The Gift Shop had its Australian premiere at the Sydney Film Festival – and during its subsequent run in a single-screen-per-city release – there was a great deal of speculation on whether this documentary about street-artist demigod Banksy and his erstwhile videographer Thierry Guetta was an elaborate fake.
Purporting to document the street-art scenes of Los Angeles and Paris and its various stars including Banksy, Shepard Fairey, Space Invader and many others, and then elaborately turning the camera on the doco’s notional director Guetta who, under the direction of Banksy, then becomes an “art star” in his own right, prompted those of a suspicious mind to wonder if they’d been had. As Art Life correspondent Michael Hutak put it when he reviewed the film back in June “We all know the potential of film to lie at 24 frames per second, a potential accelerated by the conventions of the truth telling genre: documentary. Exit through the Gift Shop may be just such a web of deceit …or it may not. I’m sure “all will be revealed” in the fullness of time. Either way I couldn’t care less. If the joke is on us, then it’s really on them.”
And so some six months on Exit Through The Gift Shop has been released on DVD and some of those answers have been finally given. For those who didn’t happen to live within commuting distance of the inner city cinemas screening the film and were curious as to what all the fuss was about Exit… proves to be an impressive documentary. Banksy appears in the film, albeit always in shadow and voice-altered, giving an unpretentious account of his own work as well as his peculiar relationship with Guetta as the film complies thousands of hours of footage shot by Guetta which in turn gives the documentary an expansive scope. What most people won’t expect is that Exit… has a three-act dramatic structure that pays off at each stage of the film leading to a big, if slightly absurd, ending. In that sense Exit is a very satisfying diversion from the usual po-faced arts documentary.
Since the cinema release of Exit… Banksy’s career has jumped the proverbial shark. His project for an opening credits re-do for a recent episode of The Simpsons failed to produce anything of consequence and its marriage of an outsider-provocateur taking on the mighty News Corp also proved to be a lame retread of a number of self-referential jokes The Simpsons had already successfully pulled off about a decade ago. In retrospect it might be that Exit… was the last hurrah for an over-stretched brand.
Banksy may well make a comeback but the extras on the DVD won’t be helping. Guetta’s ill-fated Life Remote Control – the 90 minute “unwatchable” high-speed collage of street-art footage smash edited together with grabs from the media and stalker footage of celebrities – has been edited down to a brief 14 minute “lawyers edit”. Unfortunately, even at this truncated length it’s a total disaster and is, as Banksy warned, not the work of an actual film director. But the real eye-opener is B-Movie, a documentary on Banksy and his work that is about as pedestrian an arts documentary as you can image.
With a styling that looks as though it has been lifted from a would-be hip mainstream TV arts show Banksy comes across a canny outsider navigating his way into the mainstream. While there’s no overt plea for credibility the doco is undercut by a number of celebrity mates speaking for Bansky and attesting to his quality work. A few grabs of Damien Hirst claiming how great Banksy is seem to work against that proposition and the inclusion of art critics Waldemar Januszczak and Matthew Collings ends up looking both desperate and ill-advised. Januszczak has a few words of sensible praise essentially arguing that Banksy’s work is great for what it is while Collings says he hates his work, doesn’t like the reasons other people like it and won’t buy into the Banksy ethos. Perhaps the directors thought having a few detractors on board would add some credibility but the viewer is left with the impression that maybe Banksy and his people aren’t as clever as they think they are. A final questions sums up B-Movie – will Banksy’s art be remembered? “I’ve already forgotten it,” says Collings. Ouch.
Exit Through The Gift Shop
Dir: Banksy – 2010 – 89 mins