It's not often you know that a movie will be great just from watching the opening credits. The first time I remember it happening was when I saw Fargo, with its desolate white-out tundra, beautifully spaced text, murky shapes emerging from the gloom, and a swelling score that made the appearance of an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera cresting a snowy rise seem like the most epic and portentous moment in film history. I smiled to myself and settled in, thinking "This is going to be good..." That was in 1996.
It didn't happen again until April 2010, when I watched the opening credits to Exit Through the Gift Shop -- a documentary about a man named Thierry Guetta who accidentally stumbled upon the secretive world of street artists, became its sole documentarian, then co-opted, commercialized and made a fortune mimicking the styles (without substance) of the artists who had given him access, including street art luminaries like Shepard Fairey and the elusive, brilliant Banksy. Full of energy, humor, danger and insight into a hidden world of artistic outlaws and the silliness of the established art world's hunger for the next big thing, Exit Through the Gift Shop is a terrific achievement and my favorite movie of the year so far.
The film opens with a montage of various street artists preparing their tools and heading out for a night on the town, as they climb and sprint through the cities of the world clandestinely painting, stencilling, postering and installing their pieces while evading the police. A seemingly incongruously pretty Richard Hawley song plays over these images of vandalism, but the song's title and chorus, "Tonight the Streets Are Ours", could be the manifesto of the street art movement, which rejects the notion that only paying advertisers should be allowed to display their messages in public spaces, and that artists should have the same access not to sell products, but to make the world a more beautiful, intriguing, joyful place. The Streets Are Ours, so grab some paint and act like it.
You can see a shortened version of the opening credits and an extended trailer of Exit Through the Gift Shop below.
To find out if you're lucky enough to have Exit Through the Gift Shop playing near you, visit banksyfilm.com. If it isn't, you can always reserve the DVD with the Young Turks' new great sponsor, Netflix!
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