'Exit Through the Gift Shop' at the Enzian

By Samir Mathur
Contributing writer

Exit Through The Gift Shop will play at the Enzian Theater from tomorrow, Friday, October 1st, for one week. Go to their site for show times and to buy tickets.

There’s a lot of mystery around ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’, which ought to make for fun post-screening discussions. For one thing, it’s billed as “A Banksy Film,” after the notoriously secretive British street artist whose work can make headlines back home, but the level of Banksy’s involvement here is very ambiguous. Is it a documentary about the man and his work? Well, he barely appears for the first half hour; most of that time tells the tale of another guy, called Thierry who lives in Los Angeles and likes to record everything around him on his video camera. Thierry falls in with some street artists, including Shepherd Fairey (of Obama HOPE poster fame), and gets some genuinely exciting footage of them, in the dead of night, leaving their marks at various locations. There’s a real thrill as they avoid getting caught by the police, stenciling or spray painting the sides of buildings, knowing that their work may be covered – and therefore lost – within a matter of hours. There isn’t much discussion of motivation – I would have been interested to hear what moves artists to take such risks for what are usually only temporary works of art.

Later, Thierry becomes involved with helping Banksy as the latter arrives in L.A. and they develop an odd friendship, which includes a memorable visit to Disneyland that I shan’t spoil for you. After that, Banksy returns to England, and encourages Thierry to follow in his street-art footsteps, advice which Thierry takes to heart with wild abandon, eventually putting on a huge show in an abandoned TV studio, which a couple of thousand people come to witness.

So what kind of film are we dealing with, here? It sure doesn’t feel like a documentary about Banksy, as I suggested earlier. He certainly plays second fiddle to Thierry, whose transformation from overenthusiastic family man and business owner, to capital-A Artist, who sells nearly a million dollars’ worth of art work, is the main focus of the film. Initially, it has the feel of a documentary about the world of street art, following various people and not just the most famous dude. But the second half is almost entirely about Thierry preparing for his show. Did I mention that Thierry goes by the name Mr. Brainwash now? I probably should have mentioned that.

Where does that leave us? There’s a lot of speculation online that the whole thing is an elaborate stunt, a hoax orchestrated by Banksy himself, to prove the shallowness and meaningless of the fine arts world. The idea is that they created this guy, Mr. Brainwash, gave him the gift of self-promotion without any real artistic talent, and then filmed people literally break down security fences to get into his show, and pay top dollar for his work. Whether this is actually the case or not is a mystery, but sticking two fingers up at the art establishment is certainly something we would not put beyond Banksy, who only appears on camera with his face hidden and his voice put through a Delocated-style filter.

The fact that you’re not sure whether the whole thing is a big scam only adds to the appeal of the film. Like 2007’s ‘My Kid Could Paint That’, this one asks the big questions about what art is, what art should be, and is some art really worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s a lot funnier than you’d expect, and it features a gorgeous song by Richard Hawley at the beginning and end. In the first couple of minutes, Banksy says of the film, “It’s not exactly ‘Gone With the Wind’. But there’s a moral in there somewhere.” Make of that what you will.

It’ll only be here in town for a week, and I’d highly recommend checking it out, and then spending an hour talking about it with your friends in the Eden Bar afterwards.