I Don’t Know Who The Joke's On. I’m not even sure there is a joke.
-Street Artist at the end of Exit Through The Gift Shop-
Exit Through The Gift Shop is a movie that is positively alive with the thrill of getting away with something. From the dynamic opening montage and its heady rush through the remaining eighty minutes it remains a film so energetic that it’s down right joyful. The fact that large swatches of it might be nothing more than an elaborate prank merely add to its heady rush. After all everyone in the film is getting away with something, why shouldn’t the people making the film be getting away with something as well?
The film follows Thierry Guetta, a French immigrant shop owner with a obsessive compulsive habit of filming things. One day as a lark he starts following the Street Artists, that he meets through his cousin, on their nightly rounds. He ends up brushing against most of the major players in street art, including Shepard Fairey and eventually the ever elusive Banksy and filming their art and the guerilla campaigns that create it.
Not that he has any plans for the footage, until the somewhat mystified Street Artists suggest he make a documentary from it. Which in turn inspires Thierry to… well that would be telling. Suffice to say the results of Thierry’s inspiration might well make Andy Warhol a bit peaky.
The real stars are of course the legion of street artists that Guetta captures, along with their art. At the center of which is the elusive Banksy, the film’s eventual director (long story). Banksy scours the streets as an avatar of freedom like a modern day Harry Tuttle inspiring with painting rather than plumbing. In the documentary, a newscaster describes him as a British Scarlet Pimpernell, after he put one of his paintings in the British National Museum in a neat reverse heist. Personally speaking I think he seems closer to V. Or more accurately V and his creator Alan Moore combined. After watching him do things like TAG THE FUCKING WEST BANK, it’s difficult to think of him in terms other than quasi mystical.
Which is perhaps why it comes as a great surprise that Banksy emerges as an unexpectedly comic and droll figure. Or at least as droll as a figure with his face masked in shadows speaking through a vocorder can possibly be. Honestly, it’s astounding how expressive Banksy is with a monotone robot voice, minimal body language and no facial expressions. He’s almost Tatiesque giving a few deadpan reactions so astoundingly funny that if the whole “Being a world renowned artist.” Thing doesn’t pan out for Banksy he’d be sure to have a great career as a Screen Comic.
In moments like the one in which Guetta debuts his “cut” of the film that would eventually become Exit (Imagine a terrible opening montage for a documentary… that never ended) There is something almost Jeeves like about him. As if he is mere seconds from telling Guetta what a complete idiot he is, yet never quite allowing his veneer of civility and serenity to crack.
It’d be unfair for me to give away just where Exit Through The Gift Shop goes. If only because the blinkered, bemused reaction of the artists to the Frankenstein monster they’ve created is too good to spoil. Everyone maintains the thinnest veneer of politeness but one has the feeling that they are only moments away from completely losing there shit on camera.
Suffice to say, though I can’t tell you where Exit goes it is well worth following it there. It is as thoroughly an exhilarating experience as the cinema of 2010 provided.