EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
Living in LA for over four years, I saw lots of places where people would stand in a long line waiting for things. The most popular things people waited for were cupcakes, hotdogs, and places to hide from the rain. Only the last thing I could understand.
The people who carry artistic license in that city get away with a lot. They sell a bunch of overrated crap and if so desired could probably get away with murder. In Exit from the Giftshop, you meet one such man. He’s the subject of the movie, and at first it feels a bit disappointing. He’s just this Frenchman who goes around filming lots of big graffiti artists throughout LA, NY, London, and Paris. In big cities where the risk of getting caught is enormous, he feeds off of the adrenaline spending years filming them with his digital camera. He accumulates a lot of footage, jumping from one artist to the next. Is he making a movie out of it or just having fun? What makes him so relevant in the context of street graffiti if he only acts like one of their groupies? You can tell that he’s pulled in every direction by these artists. He wants to be like them. They offer advice on what he should do with all the footage. One artist advises him to make a documentary. So he does. But to go down that path he decides he needs to chase down the biggest street artist of them all: banksy.
For those of us who know about banksy, we still don’t really know about him. His mysterious identity makes him like the superhero of street artists. He leaves his calling card everywhere and in some strange way I can only begin to understand, inspires the world around him to sit up and pay attention. When I saw his art on the West Bank hit the internet several years back, his notoriety grew a thousandfold. And when you look at what he did there on that wall (it’s in this movie, you don’t need to go hunting for it), you see that he’s doing something special. It took balls but it took ingenuity, also. And it took foresight and planning to accomplish it. That combination of elements is what distinguishes that kind of street art from the majority you see around you all the time.
The Frenchman starts out as Thierry Guetta. By the end of the movie he’s known as Mr. Brainwash. Where that transformation comes from is what is so fascinating to watch. And it’s not particularly a transformation I enjoyed seeing, either. This is the equivalent to a groupie who goes on the road with his favorite bands, building relationships with them and stroking everybody’s ego because he loves their music so much. Then he realizes these bands are on the forefront of the music industry and nobody out there is doing anything else like it. So he says goodbye to the bands, and forms his own band even though he doesn’t know how to play a single instrument. But that’s okay. He hires a great bassist, a drummer, a rythm guitar player and a back up vocalist, as well as a really decent sound mixer to make the music great live. Then he asks those favorite bands he followed for so long to help promote his music. Sure, they think. Why not, he’s just having a little fun. Then his band makes like $1,000,000 dollars in one week while the bands sit in traffic inside their tour buses thinking, what the fuck just happened? We thought this guy was totally harmless. Then he turned around and made our music look like a big joke.
Sometimes, it’s not the destination that counts. It’s the journey that you take to get there. The rules which govern what makes “good art”, and by good art I mean art you can sell for $30,000 a piece to some dipshit collector, are the same rules that arbitrarily govern social epidemics like why people in LA wait in line for hotdogs and cupcakes that reward a patient wait with massive diarrhea. I don’t exactly know what those rules are, and nobody else seems to either.
I went into this knowing very little. My girlfriend knew even less than I did. We both came away talking about it for hours. My friend Brandon told me to take some time out after to discuss it. In the back of my mind I couldn’t for the life of me understand what I would talk about, especially about a subject like graffiti which I don’t have a lot of knowledge or interest in.
But this is kind of a revenge movie, once it’s all over with. You don’t expect one when you start watching it, but by the time it’s over there are some real searing indictments made that leave you thinking long after it’s over.
“I used to encourage everyone I knew to make art; I don’t do that anymore”