There’s a 1966 Peter Sellars movie, After the Fox, in which Sellars’ master criminal Aldo Vanucci (aka the Fox), posing as a famous director, persuades the entire population of a coastal village that they are the stars of his latest art-house movie, the cover story for smuggling the “gold of Cairo” abroad.
Exit Through the Gift Shop is a documentary centred on the apparent friendship between British street artist ‘Banksy’ and obsessive super-fan Thierry Guetta, an LA-based Frenchman with a lucrative ‘retro’ clothing business and a compulsion for videoing his life.
Guetta’s involvement with the LA street art scene began with his cousin, ‘Space Invader’ and Obama poster-designer Shepard Fairey; soon Guetta was following the artists around, ineptly shooting miles of unusable video. By chance, Banksy needed a guide on his first trip to LA and Space Invader put the two together.
Alledgedly, Banksy first suggested Guetta turn his footage into the first real documentary of the Street Art movement. What came back was an unwatchable mess of a two-hour trailer, prompting Banksy to make the film himself, meanwhile fobbing off Guetta by suggesting he go off to produce some art himself.
Guetta returned to LA to mount a vastly ambitious show, Life is Beautiful, at the derelict CBS Studios. Filled with a body of industrially-produced, derivative pop-art of mind-numbing unorginality, in styles lifted from Warhol, Pollock and Banksy himself, Guetta’s show was produced under the name Mr. Brain-Wash.
Banksy, ever the man of mystery, occasionally appears backlit, blurred and distorted; Guetta, portrayed as a canny thrift-shop, rags-to-collectibles entrepreneur, is a comedy character worthy of Sellars or Sacha Baron-Cohen. The build-up to the LA show is an epic shambles, surpassed only by the epic hype that drew in the art cogniscenti and sold over $1m of third-hand trash art. Mid-way, Guetta falls off a ladder, Candid Camera style and breaks a foot, completing the show on crutches and a scooter.
It’s a genial, entertaining and easy viewing. But I can’t help thinking of After the Fox and Orson Welles’ knowingly false F for Fake. How authentic is any work produced by reknowned art trickster and subversive Banksy? Is this the real Thierry Guetta? Is this the real Banksy? The con played on the LA art-world is made very clear. Has the same con been played on the audience of this movie? Documentary or Mock-umentary? You decide. RC
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Genre: Documentary, Musical & Performing Arts, Comedy, Special Interest
Production year: 2010
Certification (UK): 15
Running time: 86 mins
Directors: Banksy, Thierry Guetta
Cast: Banksy, Rhys Ifans, Shepard Fairey